Italy signs deal for long-term aid to Afghanistan

Jan 26, 2012, 8:40 PM

ROME (AP) – Italy signed a pact Thursday aimed at supporting Afghanistan after foreign forces withdraw from the country in 2014, while Germany extended its military mission there for another year, developments that came as Afghan President Hamid Karzai began a tour of Europe with a stop in Rome.

Italian Premier Mario Monti assured Karzai that “Italy will not abandon” his impoverished, conflict-scarred nation, where Taliban militants once thought defeated after the U.S.-led invasion in 2001 have roared back in recent years.

The two men signed a long-term cooperation agreement that deals with a wide range of areas, including political, security, and economic, as well as efforts to counter the drug trade and establish the rule of law.

While in Rome, Karzai also met with Marc Grossman, the U.S. special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, to discuss ongoing efforts to engage the Taliban in peace talks by having them open a representative office in Qatar, the State Department said in Washington.

Grossman was wrapping up a tour of numerous countries, including Afghanistan and Qatar, to discuss the matter. Prior to traveling to Doha, he had met with Karzai at least two times in Kabul in the last week-and-a-half, spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said.

The meeting in Rome “gave Ambassador Grossman an opportunity to debrief President Karzai on his meetings in Qatar and continue to work closely with the Afghan government on next steps in the reconciliation process,” Nuland told reporters.

She refused to say if he had seen any Taliban officials in Qatar but said his meetings in Doha focused on whether and when the group would open an office there.

In Germany, parliament voted to extend the country’s military mission in Afghanistan to next year, signing off on a plan that gradually reduces troop levels toward an eventual complete withdrawal. The plan sets a ceiling of 4,900 soldiers, reduced from the maximum 5,350 over the last year.

By the end of January 2013, the government aims to get troop numbers down to 4,400. That’s part of overall plans by the U.S. and other allies to withdraw combat troops and hand over responsibility for security to Afghan authorities by the end of 2014.

The plan garnered cross-party support, with 424 voting for it, 107 against, and 38 abstaining.

“It’s positive that Parliament has supported our soldiers in Afghanistan with such a wide majority,” German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said. “It is also important that this mission is responsibly and orderly carried out through the end.”

Germany also has promised its support for Afghanistan after troops leave in 2014.

It hosted a conference in Bonn in December, where it was one of about 100 nations and international organizations, including the United Nations, which pledged political and financial long-term support for war-torn Afghanistan to keep it from falling back into chaos or becoming a safe haven for terrorists.

(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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Italy signs deal for long-term aid to Afghanistan