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Plan for early end to US combat role catches Afghan officials by surprise

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Who will carry out Obama's Afghanistan exit plan? Three new guys.

In his announcement, Mr. Panetta downplayed French President Nicolas Sarkozy's decision to withdraw France's troops by the end of 2013, a year ahead of its NATO allies, the Times reports. His decision came after an Afghan soldier killed four French soldiers who were on a training mission – an action that has not been uncommon in the war there.

The Los Angeles Times reports that Panetta's decision was done to preempt any similar decisions from other NATO allies.

By announcing a specific timetable, US officials are hoping to head off a push by allies to pull out their forces more quickly. Public support for the war is falling in many countries, and with their economies struggling, governments are under pressure to trim their defense budgets.

With the expedited end to a combat role, US troops will turn primarily to training and advisory missions, similar to the way the withdrawal unfolded from Iraq, with the US focused on training Iraqi soldiers for more than a year before the last convoy left the country. Whether Afghan troops are ready to take on the central role is unclear – both the Army and police are "plagued by corruption, operational and personnel problems," according to the Los Angeles Times.

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