Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told reporters today the United States is looking to end combat operations in Afghanistan by the second half of next year. The Washington Post reports Panetta's statements are the first time someone from the Obama administration has indicated it would be possible for the U.S. and NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) to transition out of a combat role and into one of support and training in Afghanistan in 2013.
Panetta said to reporters:
ISAF has a fixed deadline of 2014 for ending the war in Afghanistan, according to the Washington Post. And Panetta says both United States and ISAF troops will remain in the country at least until that deadline.
The Associated Press reports there are roughly 91,000 U.S. servicemembers in Afghanistan right now. Panetta suggested during his discussion with reporters, made on a plane trip to Brussels for a NATO meeting, that it would be unlikely there would be a large reduction of troops when U.S. and ISAF forces shift from a combat role to one of support.