NEWPORT, Wales — This week’s NATO summit was long planned as a celebration of the end of combat in Afghanistan and the coalition forces’ shift to a largely advisory role. But the still-unsettled Afghan election has cast doubt on the transition and left the door open for all allied troops to be forced out at year’s end.
As international leaders gather, including President Obama, there is a nagging uncertainty about whether the Afghans will be able to put a new president in place soon and sign a security agreement the United States and allies need to keep troops in the country into next year.
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen warned on Thursday that time to resolve the presidential election and sign the pact is short. He said allied nations stand ready to supply aid and troops and will reach their $4.1 billion goal for funding Afghan security forces, but some final decisions can’t be made until the political stalemate is over.
Without an agreement, he said, ‘‘there can be no mission. Although our military commanders have shown great flexibility in their planning, time is short.”
The April 6 voting to elect a successor to President Hamid Karzai resulted in a runoff between two candidates. Both have pulled their observers out of a ballot audit meant to determine the winner, and a final audit is expected next week.
The United States plans to withdraw all but roughly 10,000 troops by the end of this year; they will advise Afghans and conduct some counterterror missions. That number would be cut in half by the end of 2015, and to about 1,000 after the end of 2016.
During the summit, NATO leaders reaffirmed their commitment to the Afghanistan mission, and there was a short ceremony honoring troops killed in the 13-year conflict.
Defense Minister Bismullah Khan Mohammadi represented Afghanistan at the summit. Karzai and the two candidates did not attend.
Rasmussen said the candidates, former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah and former finance minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, sent a message to NATO, indicating ‘‘they will do all they can to reach a political agreement.’’
In a private meeting on the sidelines of the summit, Mohammadi reassured US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel that both presidential candidates continue to support the security agreement, said Rear Admiral John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary.
Senior US military leaders are also optimistic, despite the delays. They believe Afghans will resolve the election stand-off and the winner will sign the security agreement.
But last week, Marine General Joseph Dunford, who was stepping down as top US commander in Afghanistan, said the election stalemate hurt training of the Afghan military.
Dunford said resolving the political chaos will be key to that military’s success in 2015.
Just prior to the summit’s start, the Taliban on Thursday struck a government compound in eastern Afghanistan, killing at least 12 people.
Rasmussen said NATO is in the process of identifying forces for the noncombat advisory mission, but some other nations have not made firm commitments because of the election uncertainty. Once the politics are settled, he said, he is confident nations will fulfill the training requirements.
Under an agreement reached at the 2012 NATO summit in Chicago, the allies pledged to fund an Afghan force of 230,000 after 2014, for about $4.1 billion annually.