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Afghanistan wins major US ally status

KABUL — The United States declared Afghanistan a major non-NATO ally on Saturday, with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton personally delivering the news of Afghanistan’s entry into a club that includes Israel, Japan, Pakistan, and other close Asian and Middle Eastern allies.

The move, announced as Clinton stood with President Hamid Karzai amid the towering trees and rose beds on the grounds of the presidential palace here, was part of a broad strategic partnership deal signed by the United States and Afghanistan in May, she said. The pact went into effect last week.

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‘‘Please know that the United States will be your friend,’’ she told Karzai. ‘‘We are not even imagining abandoning Afghanistan. Quite the opposite. We are building a partnership with Afghanistan that will endure far into the future.’’

The designation by the United States grants a country special privileges, like access to excess US military supplies and training, Clinton said.

Clinton made a short stop in Kabul en route to Tokyo, where an international conference will be held to raise money to support the Afghan government after 2014.

International donors will pledge $16 billion in aid for Afghanistan over the next four years in hopes of stabilizing the country after most foreign combat troops return home, the Associated Press reported, citing a US envoy. The money will come with conditions to ensure it doesn’t fall victim to Afghan corruption and mismanagement.

The formal announcement was expected at a Tokyo conference attended by about 70 countries and organizations. The American official traveling with Clinton spoke ahead of the event on condition of anonymity and said $4 billion per year would be promised from 2012 through 2015. The US allotment for Afghanistan is $2.3 billion this year.

In a separate statement Saturday, the State Department said Afghanistan would also be able to obtain loans of equipment from the United States and financing for leasing equipment. The deal does not ‘‘entail any security commitment’’ by the United States to Afghanistan, the State Department said.

Iraq was never given the status of a major ally, and US troops withdrew last year.

Afghanistan’s designation as a formal ally was the latest in a series of recent American moves that have eased Afghan fears of being abandoned at the end of NATO’s mission in 2014.

The moves also appear to have already yielded one dividend for the United States: Karzai has not recently lashed out at his backers, as he has in the past, at one point calling Americans ‘‘demons.’’

On Saturday, he welcomed Clinton, calling her ‘‘my old American friend’’ in his remarks. ‘‘We appreciate your concern and good will toward Afghanistan,’’ he said.

Later, as Clinton said she was sorry to have to leave so soon, Karzai offered what he said was an old saying in Persian: ‘‘When a friend is alive, they will meet again.’’

US and Afghan officials say they now must turn to working out a deal that would keep a residual US force here to continue training Afghan soldiers and tracking down insurgents after 2014. Talks on the arrangement have not yet begun, US officials say. Estimates of the number of troops that could stay vary from as little as 10,000 to as many as 25,000 or 30,000.

But Clinton reiterated Saturday that Washington did envision keeping US troops in Afghanistan, where they would provide the kind of air power and surveillance capabilities needed to give Afghan forces an edge over the Taliban.

‘‘This is the kind of relationship that we think will be especially beneficial as we do the transition and as we plan for the post-2014 presence,’’ she said. ‘‘It will open the door to Afghanistan’s military to have a greater capability and a broader kind of relationship with the United States and especially the United States military.’’

At the US Embassy, she praised the work done by civilians in the war. State Department officials said that her remarks were intended to rebut what many in the State Department consider unfair criticism of their work in Afghanistan, where they have often been portrayed as not carrying their weight when compared with the military.

But US soldiers and civilians alike have faced one common struggle: assuaging Afghan fears of abandonment.

Many here fear that the country is headed toward a repeat of the early 1990s, when the fall of the Soviet-backed government, coupled with a US pullback from the region, left Afghanistan mired in a brutal civil war.

The Taliban grew out of the chaos, and they quickly took over much of the country.

Clinton made clear that she was also sending a message to the Taliban.

The alliance and other US commitments to Afghanistan ‘‘should make clear to the Taliban that they cannot wait us out,’’ she said.

‘‘They can renounce international terrorism and commit to an Afghan peace process, or they will face the increasingly capable Afghan national security forces, backed by the United States.’’

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