Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Saturday formally designated Afghanistan a "major non-NATO ally," setting the stage for tighter military cooperation even as international troops are on a path to withdraw from the war-torn country by the end of 2014.
Clinton announced the new alliance to diplomats at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, according to the Associated Press. She was in Afghanistan to meet with President Hamid Karzai.
The White House had informed Karzai of its plans when President Barack Obama made a secret trip to Afghanistan in May, on the anniversary of Osama bin Laden's death. At the time, a White House statement said the move would "provide a long-term framework for security and defense cooperation."
The list of major non-NATO allies includes Argentina, Australia, Bahrain, Egypt, Israel, Japan, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, New Zealand, Pakistan, the Philippines, South Korea and Thailand. Notably, these countries are eligible for priority delivery of military hardware and can get U.S. government help to buy arms and equipment.
But the designation does not include the mutual-defense pledge that is at the heart of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) alliance.
NATO has agreed to give Afghan security forces the lead in their strife-torn country by mid-2013, on the road to a full withdrawal by the end of 2014. But Obama has always said that U.S.-Afghan cooperation will continue beyond that date.