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US declares Afghanistan a 'major non-NATO ally'

The United States has named Afghanistan a "major non-NATO ally," a status that will make it easier for the Afghan government to acquire U.S. defense equipment, U.S. officials said on Saturday.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton announced that President Barack Obama had designated Afghanistan as a major non-NATO ally shortly after arriving in the country for talks with Afghan President Hamid Karzai.


 

The designation allows for streamlined defense cooperation, including expedited purchasing ability of American equipment and easier export control regulations. Afghanistan's military, which is heavily dependent on American and foreign assistance, already enjoys many of these benefits. The non-NATO ally status guarantees it will continue to do so.

"We see this as a powerful commitment to Afghanistan's future," she said at a news conference in the grand courtyard of Kabul's Presidential Palace. "We are not even imagining abandoning Afghanistan."
 
Clinton insisted that progress was coming incrementally but consistently to the war-torn nation after decades of conflict. "The security situation is more stable," she said. Afghan forces "are improving their capacity." 

At the news conference, Karzai welcomed Clinton to Kabul and thanked the U.S. for its continued support. 

Clinton repeated the tenets of America's "fight, talk, build" strategy for Afghanistan. The goal aims first to defeat dangerous extremists, win over Taliban militants and others willing to give up violence and help in the long reconstruction of Afghanistan ahead. 

Reconciliation efforts haven't gained steam, but Clinton said she was pleased to be meeting the foreign ministers of Afghanistan and Pakistan together in Tokyo — a three-way relationship seen as key to stabilizing Afghanistan. 

Afghanistan becomes the 15th such country the U.S. has declared a major non-NATO ally. Others include Australia, Egypt, Israel and Japan. Afghanistan's neighbor Pakistan was the last nation to gain the status in 2004.

The declaration was part of a Strategic Partnership Agreement signed by Presidents Barack Obama and Karzai in Kabul at the beginning of May.

On July 4, the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, Ryan Crocker, and the country's foreign minister announced that the two countries had completed their internal processes to ratify the Agreement, which has now gone into force.

From Kabul, Clinton is heading later Saturday to Japan for an international conference on Afghan civilian assistance. Donors are expected to pledge around $4 billion a year in long-term civilian support.

Clinton arrived in Afghanistan unannounced after travelling from Paris, where she attended a 100-nation conference on Syria. 

U.S. officials traveling with Clinton declined to say how much aid the United States would pledge at the Tokyo meeting, nor how much was expected to be committed overall as the international community seeks to back the Afghan economy and prevent the country from sliding back into chaos as foreign troops withdraw. 

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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