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Italy will continue to support Afghanistan after 2014, PM says

An Italian army corporal works a security shift at Forward Operating Base Delaram, Farah, Afghanistan, Oct. 6, 2008.

Kabul - Italy will continue to support war-torn Afghanistan in both the military and civilian realms after NATO troops withdraw in 2014, Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta assured Afghan leaders Sunday in Kabul.

Letta, who assumed office in April, arrived in Afghanistan on an unannounced visit Sunday morning. This is his first visit. Italy's presence will be different than the current NATO-led military mission, Letta said.

"I want to speak loud and clear to the people of Afghanistan and to my fellow Italians. What is at stake here is our common future," Letta said in a joint press conference with Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Karzai's fortified palace in Kabul.

"We have to stand united and do our part to build peace and prosperity for our children. This is our engagement and we will not spare our efforts."

Italy has about 4,000 soldiers in Afghanistan, serving in NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), mostly stationed in the western province of Herat.

Letta said that they would discuss the presence of Italian troops beyond 2014 within the multilateral framework, adding that, as NATO's ISAF mission "will end in 2014, our presence will be completely different."

He said Italian troops will train and assist Afghan security forces.

The prime minister also termed as important economic cooperation between his country and Afghanistan.

"We want to have a future first of all in economic development, because we are sure that 12 years of good bilateral cooperation would be very important to be developed for the mutual interest of Afghanistan and Italy."

Karzai welcomed Italy's commitment.

"I can tell you with confidence that Afghanistan welcomes an Italian presence after 2014. (That) presence in the past 12 years has been one of dedication and help the Afghan people that they appreciate it," Karzai said.

"Now, (in which range) the presence of Italian troops after 2014 in terms of security arrangement will be ... is up to the Italian government to agree. Afghanistan will go along with any decision that Italy will make in this regard."

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