Chicago: NATO leaders have endorsed President Barack Obama's plan for the withdrawal of the US-led international military force from Afghanistan by the end of 2014 in the midst of a  decade long war.

NATO leaders were leaving Chicago with "a clear road map" to bring the war in Afghanistan to a "responsible end," Obama said during a news conference Monday at the end of the two-day summit focused on the future of Afghanistan.

"We're now unified behind a plan to responsibly wind down the war in Afghanistan," he said calling the decision a "major step" toward the end of the war. But Obama acknowledged that "real challenges" remained in dealing with the problems across the border in Pakistan, and that the conference had not resolved the impasse over reopening supply lines or the other tensions about the fight against insurgents operating from safe havens there.

"We think that Pakistan has to be part of the solution in Afghanistan," he said. "Neither country is going to have the kind of security, stability and prosperity that it needs unless they can resolve some of these outstanding issues.

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said he expected an agreement soon for Pakistan to reopen its border with Afghanistan to military shipments of departing NATO forces, which would resolve a sticky issue in planning the withdrawal of foreign forces.

"So far, the closure of the transit routes has not had a major impact on our operations," Rasmussen said, but added the transit routes were very important and that he expected their reopening "in the very near future.

"Pakistan closed the ground routes after a NATO airstrike in November killed two dozen of its soldiers. NATO insists the incident was an accident. Obama offered his condolences but refused to apologize.The United States and Pakistan have not come to an agreement on the price of reopening the supply lines, CNN said citing senior administration officials.

The exit strategy which is backed by Afghan President Hamid Karzai, calls for handing over security responsibilities to Afghan forces in 2013, then withdrawing foreign forces the following year.After that, a new and different NATO mission will advise, train and assist the expected 350,000-strong Afghanistan force, Rasmussen said.


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