The Pentagon Thursday attempted to downplay Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s suggestion that the U.S. might accelerate its withdrawal from Afghanistan, saying that his recent statement implying a transfer of security responsibilities in 2013 represented the Secretary’s personal goal.
Speaking with reporters, Pentagon spokesperson Captain James Kirby said that plans to remove the U.S. presence in 2014 remain in place and emphasized that any major shifts in strategy, including transfer of responsibilities, would not be finalized until this May, when international leaders will gather in Chicago for a Summit.
While traveling to Brussels, Belgium Wednesday for a meeting with NATO Ministers, Panetta categorized 2013 as a “critical year” in terms of security responsibilities.
“Hopefully, by mid- to the latter part of 2013, we’ll be able to make … a transition from a combat role to a training, advice and assist role, which is basically fulfilling what Lisbon was all about,” Panetta told reporters.
The comments raised eyebrows both home and abroad, with U.S. lawmakers and foreign dignitaries claiming that they had no knowledge of the 2013 date.