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NATO agrees to end-of-year pullout

NATO defense ministers agreed yesterday to begin preparing for a complete withdrawal from Afghanistan at the end of this year, as a senior U.S. military official warned that “the progress we’ve made is not sustainable” by Afghan forces without an ongoing U.S. and international troop presence.

The alliance also expressed strong concern about ongoing events in Ukraine and urged Russia “not to take any action that could create misunderstanding.”

NATO’s action on Afghanistan followed President Obama’s order Tuesday to the U.S. military to develop plans for a so-called “zero option” of complete withdrawal if the Afghan government continues to refuse to sign a bilateral security agreement with the United States.

NATO and U.S. defense officials, including Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, have made clear that their expectation – and their strong preference – is that U.S. and NATO forces will remain in Afghanistan for training and counterterrorism missions after the last combat troops leave in December.

A twofold decision taken by NATO yesterday, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said, reaffirms the alliance commitment to a training mission after 2014.

While both Obama and NATO agree that Afghan President Hamid Karzai does not intend to sign the agreement, many chose to look on the bright side and interpreted the U.S. announcement as clarifying a willingness to wait until after Karzai’s successor is elected this spring.

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