Kabul: The Obama administration on Saturday declared Afghanistan the United States' newest "major non-NATO ally," an action designed to facilitate close defence cooperation after US combat troops withdraw from the country in 2014 and as a political statement of support for Afghanistan's long-term stability.
US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who arrived in Kabul on an unannounced visit to meet Afghan President Hamid Karzai, disclosed the alliance to diplomats at the US Embassy.
The designation allows for streamlined defence cooperation, including expedited purchasing ability of American equipment and easier export control regulations. Afghanistan's military, which is heavily dependent on American and foreign assistance, already enjoys many of these benefits. The non-NATO ally status guarantees it will continue to do so.
"I am going to be announcing formally with President Karzai in just a little bit that President Obama has officially designated Afghanistan as what's called a major non-NATO ally of the United States," Clinton said.
Afghanistan becomes the 15th such country the US has declared a major non-NATO ally. Others include Australia, Egypt, Israel and Japan. Afghanistan's neighbor Pakistan was the last nation to gain the status in 2004.
The declaration was part of a Strategic Partnership Agreement signed by Presidents Barack Obama and Karzai in Kabul at the beginning of May.
On July 4, the US ambassador to Afghanistan, Ryan Crocker, and the country's foreign minister announced that the two countries had completed their internal processes to ratify the Agreement, which has now gone into force.
Clinton and Karzai were expected to discuss US-Afghan civilian and defence ties and stalled Afghan reconciliation efforts.
From Kabul, Clinton is heading later on Saturday to Japan for an international conference on Afghan civilian assistance. Donors are expected to pledge around $4 billion a year in long-term civilian support.
Clinton arrived in Afghanistan from Paris, where she attended a 100-nation conference on Syria.