NEWPORT, Wales, Sept. 5 (UPI) -- At the NATO summit in Wales on Thursday, members reaffirmed their commitment to supporting Afghanistan following completion of its combat mission.
U.S. Ambassador to NATO Doug Lute suggested the first day of the two-day summit "should be looked at as NATO's attempt to get its hands around the multiple challenges it faces... first, it was the unfinished NATO business in Afghanistan..."
More than 50 government leaders attended the three-hour meeting, making it the most attended session of the Summit.
Three major themes dominated the discussion, said Lute. Members recognized Afghanistan's improved security situation, notably with the establishment and growth of the Afghan National Army to 350,000 troops, progress in the development sphere that was "enabled by the improved security situation delivered in part by the NATO coalition," and also the recognition by members of "how far Afghanistan has to go."
In order for NATO to implement its non-combat mission beyond 2014, Afghanistan's next president -- who will be determined by a U.N.-observed vote audit possibly by next week -- must sign both the Bilateral Security Agreement with the U.S. and the NATO Status of Forces Agreement.
"Without a signature, there can be no mission. Our planning is complete," said NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, "but time is short."
NATO's post-2014 Resolute Support Mission, if authorized by Afghanistan, would "help train, advise and assist Afghan security forces" as "one of the three pillars of NATO's long-term engagement in Afghanistan, along with a contribution to the long-term sustainment of the Afghan National Army and the strengthening of long-term political and practical cooperation with Afghanistan."