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UPDATE: NATO leaders on Monday will endorse a plan to relinquish combat command in Afghanistan by mid-2013. Most of the 130,000 troops in the country will be withdrawn by 2014.
Reuters reports that alliance leaders are now focused on the logistical challenge of planning the actual physical exit of NATO troops and supplies. They are currently trying to secure so-called "reverse transit" routes that will allow NATO supplies currently in Afghanistan to be moved through Uzbekistan and Pakistan on their way home.
Pakistan's president, Asif Ali Zardari, is attending the NATO summit in Chicago. The country has blocked transit of supplies since a U.S. drone attack killed 24 Pakistani soldiers last year.
The BBC reports that Pakistan has made several demands in exchange for re-opening the route, including a public apology for the deaths, a review of U.S. drone use policy, and a transit charge increase from $250 to $5,000 per vehicle. President Obama, citing aid the United States already gives to Pakistan, is reportedly not happy about the fee increase.
Sunday, May 21: President Obama met with Afghan President Hamid Karzai Sunday before opening a NATO summit in Chicago and emphasized that while the alliance will seek to ratify a withdrawal plan, that doesn’t mean Afghanistan will be left on its own, reports the Washington Post. The NATO summit in Chicago will be “painting a vision post-2014 in which we have ended our combat role, the Afghan war as we understand it is over, but our commitment to friendship and partnership with Afghanistan continues,” Obama said.
Afghan forces will be taking on a leading security role next year rather than in 2014 as originally envisioned, in part due to plunging support for the war in Europe and the United States, points out the Associated Press. Karzai insisted Afghanistan is looking forward to the war’s end "so that Afghanistan is no longer a burden on the shoulder of our friends in the international community, on the shoulders of the United States and our other allies.”
Despite the signs that NATO allies want to get done with Afghanistan as quickly as possible, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen emphasized that “there will be no rush for the exits,” reports Reuters. Despite France’s decision to withdraw its troops by the end of this year, Rasmussen expressed confidence that “we will stay committed to our operation in Afghanistan and see it through to a successful end.”
Meanwhile, administration officials are growing increasingly frustrated that they have not been able to reach a deal with Pakistan to reopen ground routes used to move supplies into Afghanistan, reports the Chicago Tribune. They had hoped to resolve the issue before the NATO summit began and now administration officials say President Obama will not meet directly with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari without an agreement.
As NATO dignitaries began to gather at the summit, so did thousands of protesters who converged for an anti-war rally. Protests over the past week have been largely peaceful with the Chicago Police Department reporting fewer than two dozen arrests over the past six days, according to Reuters.