White House declares Afghanistan a ‘major non-NATO ally’

President Barack Obama officially designated Afghanistan a "major non-NATO ally" on Friday, putting the country on par with some of the United States' closest international partners. 

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made a formal announcement during an unannounced visit to Afghanistan on Saturday.

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Clinton said the new status was a “powerful symbol of our commitment to Afghanistan’s future,” according to reports of her address.

“We are not even imagining abandoning Afghanistan,” she said.

The agreement to put Afghanistan on the list of major non-NATO allies was part of the postwar deal struck between the White House and Kabul in May. 

The presidential determination sent to the State Department on Friday merely formalized the mandates agreed to in the U.S-Afghanistan deal struck three months earlier. 

Other major non-NATO allies to the United States include Australia, Bahrain, Israel, Japan, New Zealand, the Philippines, Thailand, and Republic of Korea.

Pakistan was the most recent country to be granted the non-NATO ally status in 2004, when then-President George W. Bush added the country to that key list of American allies. 

Afghanistan is the first country President Obama has added to the non-NATO ally list since taking the White House in 2008. 

Aside from increased military cooperation with the United States, Afghanistan will now have priority to receive surplus American military hardware under its major non-NATO ally status. 

Afghanistan will also be able to stockpile American military surplus weapons and equipment outside the United States, without having to adhere to federal mandates governing foreign military sales. 

The designation does not guarantee future U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan after the American withdrawal is complete in 2014, a senior administration official explained back in May, shortly before the U.S.-Afghan postwar deal was signed.

"It does, however, commit the United States to seek funding from Congress on an annual basis to support the training, equipping, advising and sustaining the Afghan National Security Forces, as well as for social and economic assistance," the official told reporters during a briefing aboard Air Force One. 

The Obama administration has 30 days to officially notify Congress on Afghanistan's new status, according to federal law. However, congressional approval is not required before Kabul can assume its role as a major non-NATO ally. 

This story was updated at 6:27 a.m.

Meghashyam Mali contributed