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Afghanistan: Is 2014 the new 2011 for Pentagon war planners?

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Many US military officials dismiss Karzai’s comments as primarily for public consumption at home, and point out that a 2014 date to end US combat operations in Afghanistan gives Karzai some political breathing room. The same is true for the Obama administration.

Over at the Pentagon, too, it has been clear for weeks that military officials have been slowly backing away from July 2011 as a date that will hold much meaning for most US troops on the ground.

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates last week emphasized that July 2011 is hardly an end date for US troop involvement in Afghanistan and that “most” US forces will continue to fight in Afghanistan long after next summer has come and gone.

“It’s a years-long process,” said Secretary Gates. People say, " 'Well, you picked July 2011 and that lets the Taliban know there’s an end date.' Well, I hope the Taliban think that’s an end date, because it’s not. They are going to be very surprised come September, October, when most American forces are still there and still coming after them.”

At this week’s NATO summit in Lisbon, one item on the agenda will be simply “to embrace President Karzai’s goal of completing the transfer of security responsibility to Afghanistan by 2014,” Gates says.

The director of the Pentagon’s Pakistan/Afghanistan Coordination Cell, Brig. Gen. John “Mick” Nicholson, said at an Army symposium in October that he believes it would be possible for Afghans to take over security responsibilities in their country “by the end of 2014.” He also noted that strikes by US special operations forces are continuing at an “unprecedented” pace with “a tremendous amount of success.”

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