NATO to continue mission as Afghan candidates send truce message

* Rasmussen says all combat operations of ISAF-NATO would end in December * Says financial support for Afghan security forces would continue until 2017


WALES: NATO Secretary-General Anders Rasmussen said on Thursday they had received a message from Afghan presidential candidates Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani that they would reach an agreement to bring the dispute about the presidential polls to an end to pave the way for the continuation of the NATO cooperation in non-combat role.
“Afghanistan deserves a rapid completion of the electoral process with an outcome that can be accepted by the Afghan people,” said the NATO secretary-general. Addressing the NATO press corps at the NATO summit venue in Newport, Wales, he said the overall goal of NATO mission was achieved, as Afghanistan was no more home to international terrorists. He said 350,000-strong Afghan National Army and police were already leading all operations in the country for more than a year, adding that the cooperation with Afghanistan would continue because “stability in Afghanistan means security for us”.
Rasmussen said all combat operations of IASAF-NATO would come to an end by December, but commitment to help Afghanistan militarily would continue in training and other non-combat areas.
The NATO secretary-general said the non-combat cooperation with Afghanistan would resume as soon as the Afghan side signed the legal framework. He said financial support for Afghan security forces would continue until 2017. To a question, Rasmussen said NATO remained committed to $4.1 billion aid to Afghanistan as announced in Chicago in 2012 but hastened to say that all financial support to the country would only take place under a system of transparency, openness and accountability. “We would like to know where our money is going and how it is being spent,” he said.
The NATO official, however, did not talk about the role of the neighbouring countries of Afghanistan in helping the situation after the pullout of the NATO-ISAF forces.
Earlier, NATO and ISAF officials had a detailed meeting and decided their readiness to continue security cooperation with Afghanistan but linked it to the signing of the legal framework. “I cannot stress too strongly how important this is... without a signature there can be no mission. Our planning is complete but the timing is short,” the NATO secretary-general was quoted as saying.
Afghan Defence Minister Bismillah Khan Mohammadi represented his country while the outgoing president caught in bitter acrimony with the US stayed in Kabul. He, however, told the meeting that the new Afghan government remained committed to the legal framework required for the future NATO cooperation. Leaders from Japan, Central Asian states, representatives from the UN and EU also attended the meeting. PM Nawaz Sharif cancelled his visit due to the ongoing protests across the country.
The April 6 runoff election between Dr Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah had ended in serious controversy of voting fraud claims by half Tajik and half Pashtun Abdullah Abdullah. 
Both candidates had also pulled their representatives back out of the vote audit. Hamid Karzai had earlier refused to sign the legal framework for the continuation of the NATO mission.

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