When President Obama announced his plan to withdrawal the 33,000 surge forces from Afghanistan by the end of next summer, he said that by 2014, the United States will have completed its security mission in Afghanistan:
After this initial reduction, our troops will continue coming home at a steady pace as Afghan Security forces move into the lead. Our mission will change from combat to support. By 2014 this process of transition will be complete, and the Afghan people will be responsible for their own security.
But in an interview with Radio Free Europe, outgoing U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry suggested the U.S. military will be in Afghanistan well beyond 2014:
What we anticipate, as long as we’re welcome here, is that for many more years we’ll have our military forces provide training assistance, assistance in equipping your forces, providing certain capabilities that your forces may lack, for years into the future. And we also would anticipate that your forces and ours will serve together in conducting counterterrorist operations against our common international terrorist enemies.
Indeed, the Guardian reported last month that Afghan and U.S. officials “are locked in increasingly acrimonious secret talks about a long-term security agreement which is likely to see US troops, spies and air power based in the troubled country for decades.”
Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC), who, along with Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA), is leading the charge in Congress to push Obama to withdraw from Afghanistan at a faster pace, said recently the the U.S. needs a specific plan, with benchmarks, to withdraw totally by 2014. Without such a plan, he warned, “2014 becomes 2015, 2015 becomes 2016, and we still have thousands of troops in Afghanistan.”