At the NATO summit in Chicago, President Obama emphasized the coming end of the war. But Marine Gen. John Allen, the NATO Commander in Afghanistan, said US troops will be fighting there through 2014.
Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP
President Obama, his re-election in the balance and polls showing Americans increasingly opposed to the war in Afghanistan no doubt on his mind, opened NATO’s Chicago summit Sunday emphasizing the day when “the Afghan war as we know it is over.”
But the NATO Commander in Afghanistan, Marine Gen. John Allen, had a different message. Noting “there is a narrative out there” that combat involving the US will end in 2013, General Allen said the reality is that US soldiers would be fighting right up until NATO ends its combat mission in December 2014.
The difference in the two men’s messages reflects their two different offices: One must appeal to voters who are anxious for the war to end, and the other must command a war taking into account the reality he confronts on the ground.
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The two interpretations, while not harmonious, are not contradictory. The statements came at a summit where leaders are expected to accelerate the handing over to the Afghans of the lead role in combat operations. That could happen by mid-2013. NATO leaders had already decided in 2010 to end the alliance’s combat mission in December 2014.
Obama did say, as he always does in speaking of Afghanistan, that “difficult days” still lie ahead. But his emphasis was elsewhere when he said the summit ending Monday was about “painting a vision post-2014 in which we have ended our combat role, the Afghan war as we understand it is over, but our commitment to friendship and partnership with Afghanistan continues.”
For his part, Allen acknowledged that the Afghans will take the lead of the war in the coming year, but he said “it doesn’t mean that we won’t be fighting, it doesn’t mean there won’t be combat,” he said. That’s important, he added, “because there is a narrative out there that combat operations for the US stops at milestone 2013. That is not, in fact, correct.”