By Adele Hampton - 05/21/12 04:44 PM EDT
President Obama on Monday called on NATO leaders to approve plans for an Afghanistan exit strategy and the handover of security operations to local forces.
"Today, we’ll decide the next phase of the transition — the next milestone," Obama said at a morning round table with NATO leaders in Chicago. "We’ll set a goal for Afghan forces to take the lead for combat operations across the country in 2013 — next year — so that [International Security Assistance Forces] can move to a supporting role.
Meeting for the second day in Chicago, NATO leaders agreed that while there will still be a strong international presence in Afghanistan, starting the summer of 2013, Afghan military forces were to take over main combat responsibilities. NATO forces will remain in the country, but in a supporting role.
"Today is also an opportunity to ensure our hard-won progress is preserved," Obama continued. "The Strategic Partnership Agreement that President Karzai and I signed in Kabul ensures that as Afghans stand up they will not stand alone.
Earlier this month, Obama and President Hamid Karzai signed a security agreement formalizing a long-term U.S. presence in the country after the withdrawal of forces by the end of 2014. Leaders at the NATO summit are working to formalize the exit strategy and commit to continued assistance for the Afghan government.
Obama declared Sunday that the Afghan war "as we understood it is over" and predicted that the country was on track to achieve a "transformational decade" of peace.
"The Strategic Partnership Agreement, this NATO summit, are all part and parcel of a shared vision that we have in which Afghanistan is able to transition from decades of war to a transformational decade of peace and stability and development," said Obama after a meeting with Karzai.
In his open address Monday, Obama reiterated his confidence that the decade-long NATO mission would leave behind a stable government in Kabul.
“Our nations and the world have a vital interest in the success of this mission,” he said. “And I am confident, because of the leadership represented here as well as the leadership of our outstanding armed forces, that we can advance that goal today and responsibly bring this war to an end."