Obama on Afghanistan: Not a combat mission

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CHICAGO (AP) - President Barack Obama and fellow NATO leaders solidified plans Monday for an "irreversible transition" in Afghanistan, affirming their commitment to ending the deeply unpopular war in 2014 and voicing confidence in the ability of Afghan forces to take the lead for securing their country even sooner.

Chicago police scuffle with demonstrators during a protest at this weekend's NATO summit in Chicago.

The alliance leaders, meeting for a second day of talks in Obama's hometown, declared in a summit communique that while NATO will maintain a significant presence in Afghanistan after 2014, "this will not be a combat mission."

NATO and its partner nations formally agreed that Afghan security forces would take control of any combat next summer with NATO sliding into a support role.

Obama called the transition "the next milestone" in bringing the nearly 11-year long war to a close.

"This will be another step toward Afghans taking full lead for their security as agreed to by 2014," Obama said as he opened a meeting of NATO leaders and other countries that have participated in the war.

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Afghans were already leading security operations in half the country and were on pace to meet next year's targets.

"Transition means the people of Afghanistan increasingly see their own army and police in their towns and villages providing their security," Rasmussen said. "This is an important sign of progress toward our shared goal: an Afghanistan governed and secured by Afghans for Afghans."

Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai participated in Monday's meeting, as did Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, whose country will have a critical role in ensuring Afghanistan's stability after NATO troops leave.

Zardari's presence has cast a shadow over the summit. The U.S. and Pakistan remain at odds over Pakistan's closure of key routes used to send supplies to NATO troops in Afghanistan.

Pakistan closed the supply lines in November following a U.S. airstrike that killed two dozen Pakistani soldiers.

While both sides have indicated the issue will be resolved, no deal is expected during the NATO meetings.

Obama thanked other nations in Central Asia and Russia for their roles in providing "critical transit" for supplies but pointedly made no mention of Pakistan.

Following the war meeting, Obama, Zardari and Karzai talked briefly on the sidelines of the summit. U.S. officials had indicated Obama would not hold a formal bilateral meeting with Zardari as long as the supply route matter remained unresolved.

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