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At a NATO summit in May in Chicago, members agreed to help the Afghan government bankroll its security forces after 2014.

Earlier this month in Tokyo, the international community pledged $16 billion in aid – at least through 2015 – to further assist rebuilding.

“We are not even imagining abandoning Afghanistan,” Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said during a stop in Kabul en route to the Tokyo gathering.

She announced that Afghanistan is the newest “major non-NATO ally” – a statement of political support for the country’s long-term stability and close defense cooperation.

Afghan, U.S. and coalition officials believe Afghan forces are becoming more capable day by day. They boast that while insurgents remain a threat, they have been forced out of population centers.

Seventy-five percent of the Afghan population lives in areas where security is being transferred to Afghan forces, they said.

‘Open for business’

The Afghan army and police force are trying to cope with low levels of literacy, corruption within their ranks and lack of equipment and experience, but are showing themselves to be increasingly capable on the battlefield – and there are still two years to go, Marine Corps Gen. John Allen, the top commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, told Associated Press in a recent interview.

“It’s gaining experience. It’s gaining leadership,” Gen. Allen said of the national army.

Still, civilians increasingly are caught in the middle of the fight against insurgents.

Last year was the deadliest on record for civilians in the Afghan war, with 3,021 killed as insurgents stepped up suicide attacks and roadside bombs, according to the U.N.

In the south, where the Taliban have strongest roots, the governor of Helmand province praises the security gains.

In 2008, provincial capital Lashkar Gah was surrounded by militants and the Taliban controlled a number of districts. There was only one brigade of the Afghan army in the province, and the police forces were beset by drug addiction, Gov. Gulab Mangal told Pentagon reporters recently.

But after years of operations by coalition and Afghan forces, insurgents have been pushed back. Today, 80 percent of the Helmand police are trained and equipped, he said, declaring Helmand is “open for business.’