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The Latest: NATO Keeps Stable Troops Levels in Afghanistan

The Latest: NATO Keeps Stable Troops Levels in Afghanistan

Saturday, 09 July 2016 08:13 AM

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — The Latest on the NATO Summit in Warsaw (all times local):

2 p.m.

NATO allies have agreed to maintain a stable military presence in Afghanistan, bolstered by President Barack Obama's decision to make a smaller cut in U.S. troop levels than he had planned.

Obama has been urging NATO leaders gathered in Warsaw to expand their support for the war against the Taliban.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the allies also made commitments to continue to fund the Afghan security forces through 2020, and are "close to" the needed $5 billion per year.

The U.S. has pledged to provide $3.5 billion annually to fund Afghan forces, and the government in Kabul is expected to contribute as much as $500 million. Allies would provide the remaining $1 billion. The funding would maintain a total of 352,000 Afghan Army troops and police officers.

Stoltenberg said it's too soon to say exactly how many troops allies will agree to keep in Afghanistan but he believes force levels will remain largely stable at about 12,000.

12:25 p.m.

The Belgian foreign minister says his nation will provide at least 150 soldiers to a new multinational NATO battalion based in Lithuania.

NATO leaders formalized an agreement at a NATO summit in Warsaw to create four battalions of about 1,000 soldiers each to be deployed to the Western alliance's eastern flank.

Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders says Saturday all the Benelux countries would be "very active in the region." But he also stressed the need "keep an open dialogue with Russia, because we need to talk about Syria and Iraq."

The new plan will see NATO forces deployed on a rotational basis for the first time to a swath of eastern Europe that was part of the Soviet bloc during the Cold War, angering Russia. Germany will lead a multinational battalion in Lithuania, with similar battalions to be led by the United States in Poland, Britain in Estonia, and Canada in Latvia.

11:55 a.m.

Mikhail Gorbachev, whose time as Soviet president saw the Cold War end, has strongly criticized NATO for escalating tensions with Russia in the alliance's summit this week.

NATO's leaders on Friday announced at the summit in Warsaw plans to beef up alliance forces in Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, all of which border Russia. Moscow earlier this this year said it would put more troops along its western borders, including two new divisions.

Gorbachev was quoted as saying Saturday by the Interfax news agency that "NATO has begun preparations for escalating from the Cold War into a hot one."

He says "all the rhetoric in Warsaw just yells of a desire almost to declare war on Russia. They only talk about defense, but actually are preparing for offensive operations."

11:20 a.m.

Poland's foreign minister says NATO is open to Ukraine's ambition to join the military alliance but any talks will be possible only after the conflict between Russia and Ukraine is solved.

Minister Witold Waszczykowski spoke Saturday at the start of the second day of a NATO summit in Warsaw.

In its key decision, the meeting has boosted the alliance's defenses on its eastern flank, where nations are nervous about their security after Russia seized Crimea from Ukraine and supports separatists in eastern Ukraine.

The NATO agenda on Saturday includes a meeting between the leaders of the 28 NATO member nations and Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko, who has been invited as a guest.

Waszczykowski say as a political climate is building in Ukraine in favor of becoming a NATO member in the future. He also said another country, Georgia, is "eligible and is ready" to join NATO and the decision depends on the "will and the determination on our part."

10:50 a.m.

Over dinner, NATO leaders gave a glum assessment of Russia's geopolitical intentions, a NATO official says, agreeing that Moscow "is likely to exploit any vulnerability" in the Western Balkans, Moldova and Ukraine.

The official, who was not authorized to make public remarks and spoke on condition of anonymity, says President Barack Obama and the other alliance leaders agreed during their Friday evening discussion that they need to maintain "a firm and united stance" on Russia and that Moscow "has to deliver" on its commitments under the Minsk agreements designed to stop the fighting in eastern Ukraine.

One particular focus of the NATO leaders during dinner was the Western Balkans and the independent nations that once were part of Yugoslavia, like Macedonia.

— John-Thor Dahlburg

9:30 a.m.

U.S. President Barack Obama and other NATO leaders have begun the second day of a summit meeting in Warsaw that's expected to lead to decisions about Afghanistan, the central Mediterranean and Iraq.

On Friday, leaders approved the deployment of four multinational NATO battalions to Poland and the Baltic states to deter Russia, as well as a Romanian-Bulgarian brigade for the Black Sea region.

The Warsaw summit, NATO's first in two years, is considered by many to be the alliance's most important since the Cold War.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg says NATO needs to adapt to confront an array of new threats to its member nations' security, including cyberattacks and violent extremism generated by radical Muslim organizations like the Islamic State group.

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The Latest on the NATO Summit in Warsaw (all times local):2 p.m.NATO allies have agreed to maintain a stable military presence in Afghanistan, bolstered by President Barack Obama's decision to make a smaller cut in U.S. troop levels than he had planned.Obama has been urging...
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Saturday, 09 July 2016 08:13 AM
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