Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta announced that the US would end combat operations in Afghanistan in mid-to-late 2013, more than one year earlier than the previously announced date of the end of 2014. After ending their combat operations, the US forces would transition to a training and advising role, with the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) taking over the lead combat role. The ANSF currently number 305,000 police and army troops, and are slated to grow to 352, 000 by September 2012.
According to the Washington Post:
Current NATO strategy, agreed to at a summit in Lisbon in November 2010, calls for coalition forces to gradually shift to a training, advisory and assistance role with the Afghan military on the way to withdrawing all combat troops by the end of 2014.
A Panetta spokesman traveling with the defense chief issued a statement Wednesday evening — several hours after Panetta’s original remarks — saying that U.S. troops could still be involved in at least some combat operations , in partnership with Afghan forces, in 2014.
U.S. and NATO forces, he said, would still be actively engaged in helping Afghan forces operate. Although the Afghan army has grown in size and capability, it is still dependent on the U.S. military for airpower, troop movement, supplies and medical aid.
Secretary Panetta also said that no decision has been made on how many US troops will remain in Afghanistan once combat operations end. The previously announced plan called for a reduction from the current level of 90,000 US troops to 67,000 by October 2012 and a steady drawdown after that with most US troops out by the end of 2014.
Today’s announcement comes on the heels of an announcement by the French that they will withdraw their forces from Afghanistan by 2013.
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