- The Italian prime minister makes a surprise visit to Afghanistan
- Italian combat troops are scheduled to withdraw in 2014
- "It is important that the relationship...doesn't stop" after troops pull out, he says
- Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti meets with troops, Afghan Prime Minister Hamid Karzai
Italy's prime minister vowed Sunday that his country will continue supporting Afghanistan even after combat troops pull out.
"It is important that the relationship between Afghanistan and the international community is modified to reflect the new conditions, but that it doesn't stop," Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti said Sunday in a joint news conference with Afghan Prime Minister Hamid Karzai.
NATO leaders are on a timetable to withdraw all of the alliance's combat troops from Afghanistan in 2014.
"It will be a presence based less on military contributions," Monti said. "It will be a presence based far more on economic cooperation, it will be cooperation on the exploration and use of Afghanistan's important mineral resources and it will be a cooperation, as it already is in this phase, of institution-building to make Afghanistan an ever more solid country."
Monti met with Karzai after visiting Italian forces on a surprise trip to Herat, Afghanistan, where Italy's troops there are based.
About 4,000 Italian troops are stationed in Afghanistan, according to a tally published by NATO's International Security Assistance Force on October 8.
At least 49 Italian troops have died in the Afghan war, according to a CNN tally.
Sunday is Italy's Armed Forces Day, which commemorates the end of World War I and honors Italian troops.