(CBS/AP) KABUL, Afghanistan - The Obama administration on Saturday declared Afghanistan the United States' newest "major non-NATO ally," an action designed to facilitate close defense cooperation after U.S. combat troops withdraw from the country in 2014 and as a political statement of support for Afghanistan's long-term stability.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who arrived in Kabul on an unannounced visit to meet Afghan President Hamid Karzai, announced the alliance to diplomats at the U.S. Embassy.
The designation allows for streamlined defense 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.
State Department sources say that this is the first time the Obama administration has bestowed that label on any country. The last one was Pakistan in 2004.
Clinton and Karzai were also expected to discuss civilian ties and stalled Afghan reconciliation efforts.
From Kabul, Clinton is heading later 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.
On Saturday, the U.S. is expected to announce that American dollars will continue to flow into Afghanistan at the same levels even as U.S. troops pull out.
Clinton arrived in Kabul from Paris, where she attended a 100-nation conference on Syria.
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