BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Britain was the only country to publicly pledge an actual amount of cash to pay for Afghanistan security after foreign combat troops withdraw in 2014, at a NATO meeting on Wednesday where differences over funding the country’s future persisted.
The United States hopes to be able to announce annual contributions worth 1 billion euros (811.2 million pounds) from other NATO allies and partners when it hosts a summit of alliance members next month. But not all ministers at Wednesday’s preparatory meeting were ready to commit.
Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said Britain would provide an annual 70 million pounds to “make Afghanistan a safer and more stable country and protect our own national interests.”
“I look forward to discussing with other like-minded countries the contributions they will make,” he said.
NATO wants to come up with a basic plan for post-2014 Afghanistan, when Afghan security forces are supposed to have full control. The security challenge was illustrated on Sunday when the Taliban launched an 18-hour attack on Kabul’s business district.
But financing security operations is a big problem given the high levels of government debt in many NATO countries, especially in Europe.
NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said that “a number of allies announced today concrete financial contributions to Afghan security forces in the future”.
But he did not specify which countries or the amounts pledged. Italian Foreign Minister Giulio Terzi said the British delegation “was the only one which provided precise figures”.
A number of other countries, including Italy, had said they would provide “significant financial contribution in the future” without providing clear numbers, he said.
A timetable agreed between NATO and Afghanistan in 2010 calls for the withdrawal of most foreign combat troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2014 when Afghan security forces are supposed to have full control.
After that, Afghanistan will need donor countries to provide billions of dollars a year to pay for its army and police.
Countries have yet to agree just how big a force is needed and who will pay for it, but are under pressure to fill in the blanks before the summit of the 28-member NATO alliance in Chicago on May 20-21.
“We cannot short-change the security that must be provided by the Afghan forces now and in the future,” U.S. Defence Secretary Leon Panetta said.
Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski said more of the burden should fall to Afghanistan’s neighbours and to countries that had not taken part in the military operation already.
“If you don’t contribute troops, you should contribute funds. We sent troops,” Sikorski said.
Efforts are being made to have non-NATO and non-ISAF countries - such as the Gulf states or perhaps Japan - contribute to the bill.
Rasmussen said that an annual cost of $4 billion was “a good planning base” as it had already been endorsed by Afghanistan and the international community.
“I would expect NATO allies and ISAF (the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan) to commit themselves to pay a fair share of the total bill,” he said.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai has said he wants at least $2 billion a year from Washington after 2014.
This week’s meetings, on Wednesday and Thursday, come after renewed violence further shook Western public support for the war. On Sunday, insurgents attacked the capital’s heavily-guarded diplomatic district, sparking 18 hours of fighting.
Afghan forces backed by NATO troops killed 35 insurgents. Eleven Afghan troops and four civilians were also killed.
On Tuesday, Australia - which is not a member of NATO but is part of the NATO-led force in Afghanistan - became the latest country to announce a faster-than-planned withdrawal, saying it would start pulling out its troops this year.
Rasmussen said Prime Minister Julia Gillard had made clear Australia would remain committed to Afghanistan after 2014.
France has said it will withdraw its troops by the end of 2013 and New Zealand may pull out before 2014.
Plans now call for 350,000 Afghan security personnel, including 195,000 members of the Afghan army, when NATO pulls out the bulk of its troops, leaving only special forces, trainers and security to protect them.
Additional reporting by Arshad Mohammed, Justyna Pawlak and Francesco Guarascio; Editing by Robin Pomeroy