Obama to press NATO for Afghan funds

Hayley Peterson

President Obama is huddling with the leaders of more than 60 countries in his hometown of Chicago this week to work out a timetable for the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan and to figure out who is going to pay $4 billion a year to help the Afghans protect themselves beyond 2014.

After a decade of war, Obama and the 28 member nations of NATO will redefine the combat mission in Afghanistan and plot the withdrawal of the 130,000 foreign troops remaining in the country.

With representatives from three dozen nonmember countries joining the NATO allies, nearly 20,000 international visitors are descending on the Windy City, where Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Obama's former top White House aide, has been bracing for protests and security threats.

As NATO designs its exit strategy, the Obama administration is concerned its war-weary allies will cut off funding for Afghan security forces -- whose funding needs are eight times the Afghan government's annual revenues -- once the last of their troops return home.

Obama is already facing that problem with newly-elected French President Francois Hollande, who campaigned on a promise to remove France's 3,400 combat troops from Afghanistan by the end of this year. In a White House meeting last week on the eve of the NATO summit, Obama lobbied Hollande to keep his troops in place.

But Hollande said France would "continue to support Afghanistan in a different way." He did not elaborate.

Facing his own possible cuts to the Pentagon's budget, Obama will use the NATO summit to aggressively campaign for funding commitments from NATO members and three dozen nonmember nations.

Annual commitments from the United Kingdom, Australia and Germany tally up to just $405 million so far, according to Obama National Security Adviser Tom Donilon.

Obama and the NATO allies also plan to discuss the alliance's capacity to fund future military operations given declining U.S. resources.

"There's a lot of talk among foreign policy commentators on the issue of decline in U.S. assets and liabilities," Donilon said.

The European share of NATO funding shrank from one-third to one-fifth over the last two decades, according to the Council on Foreign Relations.

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney says he would bolster U.S. defense spending and demand greater investments from NATO nations.

"NATO is a testament to the fact that the price of weakness is always far greater than the price of strength," Romney said. "That is a lesson I hope the leaders assembled in Chicago take to heart."

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