The United States plans to end its combat role in Afghanistan as early as mid-2013, defence Secretary Leon Panetta and his advisors said today according to The WSJ.”Our goal is to complete all of that transition in 2013 and then hopefully, by mid to the latter part of 2013, we’ll be able to make a transition from a combat role to a training, advise and assist role,” he told reporters in Brussels. At the time, Panetta was on his way to Belgium to speak with other members of the North Atlantic Treaty organisation.
The defence Secretary stressed that an end to the U.S.’s combat operations there did not amount to a change from NATO’s current plan to transfer complete control of the country to Afghan security forces by the end of 2014. U.S. troops have been gradually transferring power back to Afghan forces as violence in that region stabilised.
“It doesn’t mean that we’re not going to be combat-ready; we will be, because we always have to be in order to defend ourselves,” Panetta said (via NYT).
President Barack Obama has called for the armed forces to draw down troops to 68,000 by the end of the summer from about 91,000 now. That was part of the Administration’s larger shift towards an “advise and assist” role that has been ongoing since 2009. Evidently, that shift will be complete as early as mid-2013.
This development comes amid what appeared to be rising tensions between the U.S. and France on NATO’s role in Afghanistan. French President Nicolas Sarkozy called for a speedier withdrawl of troops in the country last week after a rogue Afghan soldier killed four unarmed French troops.
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