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    NATO expects help to fund Afghan Army

    BRUSSELS - NATO’s top official said yesterday that the alliance expects regional powers to contribute to a multibillion dollar fund to finance the Afghan Army and police after they assume full responsibility for the war in 2014.

    Since Afghanistan - one of the world’s poorest nations - cannot foot the estimated $6 billion annual bill, NATO nations will have to pay the bulk of it. But austerity measures and budgetary cuts caused by the financial crisis in the United States and Europe are making it difficult to raise the money within the alliance.

    Anders Fogh Rasmussen said he was appealing to the entire international community to help finance the force.


    Asked whether he was specifically referring to China, India, and Russia, he replied: “It’s a call on the whole of the international community to contribute to financing the Afghan security forces because I think it is also in the interest of countries in the region to see a stable and secure Afghanistan.’’

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    “So my call on the international community also includes countries in the region,’’ he said.

    Fogh Rasmussen said that defense ministers had also discussed the “sustainable size’’ of the future Afghan Army and police but that a final decision will be left to the NATO summit in Chicago in May.

    The two-day meeting in Brussels of ministers from NATO’s 28 nations and 22 other countries taking part in the war in Afghanistan is meant to pave the way for the Chicago summit.

    The Afghan Army and police are scheduled to grow to more than 350,000 members by 2014. But some have projected that the force can be safely reduced to reduce costs.


    “A reasonable number would be 230,000,’’ Defense Minister Gerard Longuet of France said after the meeting.

    The Taliban insurgents are estimated to have about 20,000 armed men.

    A related unresolved question that will be taken up in Chicago is the number of American and other foreign troops that might remain behind and what missions they would be assigned.

    The debate on the costs of the Afghan security forces came after NATO allies agreed broadly on Thursday to step back from the lead combat role in Afghanistan and let local forces take their place as early as next year, a shortened timetable that startled officials and members of the US Congress.

    Longuet said France would start drawing down its 3,600-strong contingent next month, and expects the withdrawal to be completed by mid-2013.


    Defense Secretary Leon Panetta caused a stir when he said that he foresaw US and NATO forces switching from a combat role to a support role by mid- to late-2013.

    He said this was a natural transition in line with the NATO goal, announced in November 2010, of having every Afghan province placed in government control by the end of 2014.