US names Afghan major non-NATO ally

WASHINGTON: The United States on Saturday designated Afghanistan as a major non-NATO ally, in line with a strategic partnership deal governing its ties with Kabul after foreign combat troops leave in 2014.

The move, which will allow Afghanistan special military and financial privileges, formally came in a memorandum from US President Barack Obama to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

The Strategic Partnership Agreement (SPA) signed between Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai in May allows the United States to keep a limited military presence in Afghanistan to train its troops and conduct anti-terror missions.

The designation as a major non-NATO ally will usher Afghanistan into an exclusive club of nations that enjoy privileged ties with the United States.

Such status allows members priority delivery of defense articles and the right to stockpile US military hardware.

Major non-NATO allies also benefit from US government loan guarantee programs which can back up loans issued by private banks to finance arms exports.

But major non-NATO allies do not benefit from security guarantees that are enjoyed by full members of the western alliance.

Obama vowed at the NATO summit in Chicago in May that Afghanistan would not be abandoned by the international community at the end of the foreign combat mission there in 2014.

NATO leaders have already endorsed plans to hand Afghan forces the lead for security across their country by mid-2013 while foreign troops will gradually switch their focus from combat to support mode.

NATO has a total of 130,000 soldiers helping the Karzai government fight an insurgency by hardline Taliban militants, and they are due to withdraw by the end of 2014 when the transition process is complete.

The Strategic Partnership Agreement (SPA) does not commit the United States to any specific military troop levels or funding and states that Washington does not seek permanent military bases in Afghanistan.

It also includes commitments on promoting democracy, good governance, advancing long-term security with the provision of foreign funds for the Afghan forces and states Washington will not use Afghan territory as a launching point for attacks on other countries.

Other major non-NATO allies of the United States include Argentina, Australia, Bahrain, Egypt, Israel, Japan, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, New Zealand, Pakistan, the Philippines, South Korea and Thailand.

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