Panetta: U.S. Combat In Afghanistan To End In 2013 - Spokane, North Idaho News & Weather KHQ.com

Panetta: U.S. Combat In Afghanistan To End In 2013

USATODAY.COM - U.S. and other international forces in Afghanistan aim to end their combat role next year and switch to training and advising Afghan forces through 2014, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Wednesday.

Panetta's remarks to reporters traveling with him to a NATO defense ministers meeting in Brussels represented the Obama administration's most explicit portrayal of how the foreign military role in Afghanistan is expected to evolve from the current high-intensity fight against the Taliban to a support role with Afghans fully in the lead.

Panetta called 2013 a critical year for the Afghanistan mission that has dragged on for more than a decade with little sign that the Taliban will be decisively defeated. He noted that NATO and the Afghan government intend to begin a final phase of transitioning sections of the country to Afghan security control in mid-2013.

"Hopefully by the mid to latter part of 2013 we'll be able to make a transition from a combat role to a training, advise and assist role," he said. He added that this "doesn't mean we're not going to be combat-ready," but rather that the U.S. and other international forces will no longer be in "the formal combat role we're in now."

He said no decisions have been made about how many U.S. troops would be required to remain there once the combat role has ended. He suggested, however, that large reductions, below the 68,000 troop level projected for this September, were unlikely in the months immediately after the shift. The U.S. now has about 91,000 troops there as part of the International Security Assistance Force. The fact that much military work will remain after 2013 "demands that we have a strong presence there," he said. click here to read the full story

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