KABUL, Afghanistan – Ryan Crocker, the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, spelled out in detail Sunday what Washington expects from its NATO allies at the upcoming summit in Chicago: a long-term financial commitment to Afghanistan.
“I don’t want to be flip,” Crocker told a group of visiting reporters at his residence in Kabul, but the aim in Chicago is to get “as much money as we can get for as long as we can get it.”
Crocker, a renowned diplomat who was called out of retirement by President Obama to oversee what is probably America’s toughest diplomatic post, also bluntly dismissed the idea of issuing an apology to Pakistan over last November’s errant NATO strikes, despite acknowledging that the safe haven provided by Pakistan to Taliban insurgents was probably the gravest threat to Afghanistan’s future.
“I would have to tell you, having had my embassy attacked twice by Pakistan-based insurgents – this is American soil – I’m not really much inclined toward an apology,” Crocker said in a wide-ranging interview. But he also made clear that any such decision would be made in Washington.
The Obama administration has been privately discussing whether to issue an apology to Pakistan for months, ever since the completion of an official Pentagon investigation that partially blamed mistakes made by U.S. forces for the NATO incident, which killed 22 Pakistani soldiers. Relations have been all but frozen since the NATO strikes, although a senior officer with the International Security Assistance Force, or ISAF, told reporters on Saturday that “technical” border assistance had resumed.
The administration initially had refused to apologize for the incident. But the idea continues to be a subject of debate between the State Department, the Pentagon and the White House. As a result, Crocker’s rejection of the idea was unusually forthright for a senior diplomat.
Until now, U.S. and NATO officials also have remained somewhat vague about what they hope to achieve at the NATO summit on May 20 and 21. President Obama, in announcing a new strategic partnership agreement with Afghanistan in Kabul last week, said the NATO coalition will use the summit to “set a goal for Afghan forces to be in the lead for combat operations across the country next year.”
But Crocker said the visiting NATO nations need to step up with specific commitments at the summit. The summit “is about long-term international financial support for Afghan security assistance,” he said.
According to ISAF and Afghan government estimates, it will cost about $4.1 billion a year after U.S. troops leave at the end of 2014 to sustain what is expected to be the permanent Afghan security force numbering about 230,000. Washington is expected to kick in about $2.2 billion and the Afghans about $500 million, but NATO allies are being asked to fill in the remaining amount. And, it is not known how long it will take to reduce Afghanistan’s forces from the 352,000 they are expected to reach by October of this year as part of a “surge,” which will cost about $6 billion a year.
Crocker said the international community needs to understand that its own interests are at stake. “Because if we decide that we’re done, it’s taking too long, and costs too much, and we’re tired and don’t want to do it anymore and back out of this before we give the Afghans the means … then we have set the stage for the next 9/11,” he said. “So a little bit of reinvestment that can assure us all that Afghanistan will be able to secure its own future is, I think, not too much to ask.”