BRUSSELS — The United States hopes to end its combat mission in Afghanistan by the middle of next year, more than a year earlier than scheduled, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said Wednesday.
His remarks reflected a growing sentiment within the Obama administration that its approach to Iraq, where the official end of U.S. combat operations came 16 months before the final U.S. troop withdrawal in December, may provide a useful model for winding down operations in Afghanistan.
DAVID ALEXANDER AND MIRWAIS HAROONI
The United States took Kabul by surprise by laying out plans to end its Afghan combat role earlier than expected, just after the leak of a secret report that the Taleban is confident of regaining control of the country.
US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta said overnight (NZ time) the United States would stop taking the lead role in combat operations before the end of 2013 and step into a supporting role as it winds down its longest war.
He said US forces would remain “combat-ready” but would largely shift to a train-and-assist role as Afghan forces take over responsibility for security ahead of a 2014 deadline for full Afghan control.
The announcement, ahead of a meeting of Nato defence ministers in Brussels, was greeted with surprise in Kabul, where a senior Afghan security official said the move “throws out the whole transition plan.”
“The transition has been planned against a timetable and this makes us rush all our preparations,” the official said.
“If the Americans withdraw from combat, it will certainly have an effect on our readiness and training, and on equipping the police force,” he said, adding that his government had not been informed of the change in plans.
Afghanistan is one of the world’s most corrupt countries, ranking second from bottom in rankings by the graft watchdog Transparency International.
Saikal said much of the blame for whatever remnant popularity the Taliban had in Afghanistan lay with the mercurial Karzai, whose government had proved largely ineffective, while Karzai himself had proved erratic, to the frustration of his Western backers.
“The Karzai government has remained extremely weak, dysfunctional, corrupt and untrustworthy. Most Afghans do not know what it precisely stands for,” said Saikal, who has written several books on the country.
Interesting times in which we live. I wonder, how does a commander send his troops outside the wire knowing the end is near regardless of what we do. I can tell you it does cross their minds.