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PM's Afghan funding leaves NATO behind

Date

Nick O'Malley

Catch up ... Julia Gillard and Barack Obama. Australia pledged $100 million a year for Afghanistan forces for three years from 2015.

Catch up ... Julia Gillard and Barack Obama. Australia pledged $100 million a year for Afghanistan forces for three years from 2015. Photo: Howard Moffat

AUSTRALIA'S $300 million commitment to the long-term funding of Afghanistan's defence force is beginning to look generous as far larger key NATO allies leave a Chicago summit having made smaller pledges, or none at all.

The US President, Barack Obama, used the summit to gather contributions towards a $4.1 billion fund to build and maintain Afghanistan's security forces after the NATO-led force completes its withdrawal in 2014.

It has been reported the President hoped to secure pledges of $1 billion from his European allies at the weekend but many of those countries offered far less than Australia.

Australia will pay $100 million a year for three years from 2015. Britain has pledged $100 million a year and Canada $110 million a year for three years.

Germany has committed $195 million, Italy $120 million, Turkey $20 million and New Zealand $2 million. Afghanistan will pay $500 million.

But many of NATO's 28 members and many of those involved in the broader international mission in Afghanistan have yet to make any offer at all.

Australia was invited to address the meeting of the International Security Assistance Force directly after Mr Obama and the Afghan President, Hamid Karzai, and Ms Gillard used her speech to urge other countries to contribute.

She told them the force had sacrificed too much and worked too hard to fail to support the Afghanistan military. She said in a media conference more contributions would be announced.

Despite Australia's commitment, Ms Gillard's contribution did not lead to her having a formal meeting with Mr Obama. Instead, the President greeted her briefly, a meeting she described as a ''catch up between mates''.

Ms Gillard said the Afghan army had grown in capability and size and she believed it would be able to hold the country together after the international force left.

Asked if there was a ''plan B'' should Afghanistan collapse after the withdrawal, Mr Obama only partially answered the question.

''I don't think that there is ever going to be an optimal point where we say 'this is all done, this is perfect, this is just the way we wanted it and now we can wrap up all our equipment and go home','' Mr Obama said.

''This is a process and it's sometimes a messy process, just as it was in Iraq. But think about it. We've been there now 10 years and the Afghan security forces themselves will not ever be prepared if they don't start taking that responsibility.''

The secretary-general of NATO, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, told CNN he was hopeful more would be pledged. ''This summit is not a pledging conference but, nevertheless, a number of countries have announced substantial contributions to the Afghan security forces, so I'm optimistic,'' he said.

He agreed Australia's contribution had been significant but said it was in its interest to forge closer ties with the world's largest alliance. To that end, Ms Gillard attended a NATO core partners meeting, where co-operation on cyber security, piracy and terrorism was discussed.

Crucially, the summit failed to secure an agreement to reopen supply lines to troops through Pakistan.

Mr Obama cancelled a planned formal talk with the President of Pakistan, Asif Ali Zardari, who had been invited to the talks at the last moment in the belief he could be convinced to reopen supply lines that were shut after a NATO air strike killed 24 Pakistani soldiers. The two held informal talks.

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