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US to defer Afghan exit date to 2014

The US plans to end combat operations in Afghanistan, according to officials, who noted that plans were being developed to transfer control of certain areas of the restive country over the next two years.

world Updated: Nov 15, 2010 23:54 IST

The US plans to end combat operations in Afghanistan, according to officials, who noted that plans were being developed to transfer control of certain areas of the restive country over the next two years.

This is the most concrete vision for a transition of the Obama administration, The New York Times reported, noting that plan would be presented at a NATO summit meeting in Lisbon.

The Times also pointed out that the phased withdrawal was similar to the Iraq strategy under President George W Bush who ordered a troop surge in 2007, which eventually led to handing over key security areas to Iraqis in different regions.

"Iraq is a pretty decent blueprint for how to transition in Afghanistan," one American official said yesterday, speaking on conditions of anonymity.

"But the key will be constructing an Afghan force that is truly capable of taking the lead."

John McCain, Obama's opponent in the presidential race, criticised Obama's handling of the war by saying that his policies were influenced by his liberal politics.

"You don't fight and conduct wars that way," McCain said on "Meet the Press" on NBC, as quoted by the newspaper.

"You win, and then you leave. And that's what we've done in Iraq." On the same programme, the president's senior adviser, David Axelrod, said any pullout would be driven by strategy.

"We've always said it would be based on conditions on the ground, and that is still the case," he said.

"But it's important to let the Afghans know that they have to pick up the pace in terms of training up the military, training up their police, being ready to accept responsibility."

Officials noted that transition to Afghan forces would depend on ground realities.

"This will be ground-up," said another official, as quoted by NYT.

There are approximately 100,000 troops in Afghanistan. The 2014 date was first suggested by President Hamid Karzai who has been asking for the reduction in the number of US troops in Afghanistan.

"The time has come to reduce the presence of, you know, boots in Afghanistan," he said, in an interview with The Washington Post.

Washington is already reviewing, which areas can be handed over to the Afghans, and could make some decisions by the end of the year, officials said.

The last transitions are planned for 2012, which will probably be hot spots like Khost and Kandahar.

Tens of thousands of American and NATO troops are likely to remain in the country to respond if needed in an emergency following the complete transition.

They will also continue training and mentoring the Afghan forces.