KABUL: The United States has designated Afghanistan a major non-Nato ally, giving the war-torn country special privileges as the US prepares to pull its troops out in 2014, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said today.
Clinton announced the designation, which provides a long-term framework for security and defence cooperation, during a visit to Kabul where she held talks with President Hamid Karzai.
“We see this as a powerful symbol of our commitment to Afghanistan’s future,” Clinton said at a briefing after the meeting.
The new status, which comes into effect immediately, makes it easier for a country to purchase and finance its acquisition of US defence equipment, a US official said.
“As we withdraw, they want to ensure that they continue to have this preferential treatment,” he said.
This is the first such designation by President Barack Obama’s administration, which will usher Afghanistan into an exclusive club of nations that enjoy privileged ties with the United States.
Other countries with the designation include Pakistan, Israel, Egypt, Japan, Jordan, South Korea, Argentina, Australia and New Zealand.
“Going forward as we move towards a more normalised relationship these are things that they can really harness,” the official said.
Such status allows members priority delivery of defence articles and the right to stockpile US military hardware.
Major non-Nato allies also benefit from US government loan guarantee programmes which can back up loans issued by private banks to finance arms exports.
But they 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 US and Afghanistan have already signed a Strategic Partnership Agreement which includes commitments on promoting democracy, good governance, advancing long-term security with the provision of foreign funds for the Afghan forces.