Chicago: More than 50 world leaders were gathering in Chicago for one of the biggest NATO summits in history Sunday aiming to hammer out a unified exit strategy from Afghanistan after a decade of war.

A huge security operation has swung into place in the political backyard of US President Barack Obama, with police deployed along the main arteries, some on horseback, as Coast Guard boats topped with machine guns patrol the river.

It is the first summit of the 28-member North Atlantic Treaty Organization on US soil in more than a decade, and follows a two-day summit of G8 leaders hosted by Obama in the seclusion of Camp David, Maryland.

In a sign of heightened tensions, authorities in the Windy City, already bracing for massive protests, charged three men Saturday with plotting to attack Obama's campaign headquarters and other targets during the summit.

Despite a myriad of issues facing the 63-year-old organization founded in the wake of World War II as it confronts shifting 21st-century realities, the Chicago summit is set to be dominated by Afghanistan.

According to The New York Times, Obama will announce at the gathering what he has already told the leaders in private: All combat operations led by US forces will cease in the summer of 2013, when the United States and other NATO forces move to a "support role", whether the Afghan military can secure the country or not.

Obama arrived back in his hometown late Saturday, met by cheering crowds who lined the route as his motorcade drove downtown.

Among the world leaders at the table with Obama will be Afghan President Hamid Karzai and his Pakistani counterpart Asif Ali Zardari, who accepted a last-minute invitation to attend.
Despite the stubborn Taliban insurgency, war-weary international forces are seeking to hand control of security to Afghan forces while withdrawing some 130,000 foreign combat troops by the end of 2014.

Karzai comes armed with a firm demand for $4.1 billion (3.2 billion euros) a year to fund his security forces after the pullout -- fearing his country could descend into a new civil war.

The United States is expected to foot half the bill while hoping the international community will stump up the rest.

Washington is also hoping that Zardari will agree to reopen key NATO supply routes into Afghanistan closed in November after US air strikes killed 26 Pakistani troops.

But US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta suggested in an interview with the Los Angeles Times that Islamabad was demanding too high a price to resume the deliveries across its territory.

Quoting a senior US official, the daily said Islamabad now wanted $5,000 per truck, compared with USD 250 previously, amounting to a goodly sum for the thousands of trucks that trundle across the border daily.

"Considering the financial challenges that we're facing, that's not likely," Panetta told the daily.

Pakistan's cooperation however is seen as key to the success of the international mission in Afghanistan, as US-led NATO forces fight a fierce Taliban insurgency.


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