UNITED NATIONS/BRUSSELS: The U.N. Security Council Tuesday extended authorization for the NATO-led force in Afghanistan for a year and welcomed the agreement to gradually transfer full responsibility for security in the country to the Afghan government by the end of 2014.
A resolution adopted unanimously by the council also welcomed the government’s “strong commitment” to develop a national security force under civilian leadership that can contribute to the region’s security by stabilizing the situation in Afghanistan.
The U.N.’s most powerful body expressed serious concern at the current security situation in Afghanistan and stressed that many challenges remain.
The Security Council had tentatively scheduled a trip to Afghanistan in late October, but diplomats said it has been delayed partly because of security concerns.
The Afghan war began its 12th year Sunday amid fears that once international combat forces leave in just over two years the country will again fracture along ethnic lines and there will be a repeat of the bloody ethnic fighting that followed the Soviet exit from Afghanistan in the 1990s.
The Security Council singled out continuing terrorist activities by the Taliban, Al-Qaeda and other extremist and armed groups and condemned their use of civilians as human shields. It expressed serious concern at the high number of civilian casualties, especially among women and children, noting that an increasingly large number are caused by the Taliban, Al-Qaeda and armed groups.
The council also stressed the link between terrorist activities and the illicit drug trade which still flourishes in Afghanistan.
The Security Council acknowledged that progress has been made in reforming Afghanistan’s police and army, and it welcomed NATO’s commitment to provide “sustained practical support aimed at improving and sustaining Afghanistan’s capacity and capability to tackle continued threats to its security, stability and integrity” after international forces leave at the end of 2014.
The resolution adopted Tuesday extends the authorization of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force until Oct. 13, 2013. The force currently includes about 68,000 Americans and about 40,000 troops from other nations.
The Security Council reiterated that the Afghan government’s progress on improving security, governance, human rights, development and the rule of law is linked to its progress in combatting corruption and the narcotics trade, promoting accountability and ending impunity.
Meanwhile, NATO ministers wrestled with how to prevent austerity-driven defense cuts in many member countries from undermining the power of the Western alliance.
Many European countries have cut defense spending in recent years as they try to rein in budget deficits, deepening the gulf in military capabilities between the United States and the other 27 alliance members.
On the first day of a two-day meeting in Brussels, NATO defense ministers were looking at how to make scarce defense dollars go further by increasing multinational cooperation and cutting wasteful duplication of effort.
NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen urged member nations to commit to increasing defense spending again once the squeeze on budgets eases.
“Once our economies recover, we must increase our investment in defense once again,” Rasmussen told reporters at the start of the meeting. “Because security is the basis of prosperity. Some argue that we cannot afford it. But I say that we cannot afford to be without it.”
NATO diplomats say it is unrealistic to expect any increase in defense spending soon although the pressure on alliance budgets may ease slightly once the NATO-led combat mission in Afghanistan finishes at the end of 2014.
Ministers turn to Afghanistan Wednesday, when they are expected to give military experts the go-ahead to draw up detailed plans for a NATO-led training mission that will start work in Afghanistan in 2015 once combat operations end.