US President Barack Obama vowed Monday the international community would not abandon Afghanistan as it seeks to take control of its own security and shape its future.
"As Afghans stand up, they will not stand alone," Obama told the opening of an unprecedented NATO gathering of more than 50 world leaders discussing the end of the international combat mission in Afghanistan due in 2014.
NATO leaders Monday 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.
In a Chicago summit declaration, Obama and his 27 military allies confirmed they would withdraw combat troops by the end of 2014 and leave behind a training mission.
"Today will decide the next phase of the transition, the next milestone, we will set a goal for Afghan forces to take the lead across the country in 2013, next year, so that ISAF can move towards a supporting role," Obama told the meeting also attended by Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
Karzai announced last week that Afghans would soon take control of more provinces, which will put 75 percent of the population under the protection of local forces.
"More Afghans are reclaiming their communities, Afghan security forces have grown stronger," Obama said.
"Today we can agree on NATO's long-term relationship with Afghanistan beyond 2014 including our support of Afghan security forces."