by John Isaacs

On February 1, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta announced that the United States will end its combat missions in Afghanistan by “mid- to the latter part of 2013.”

This announcement – whether intended by the Obama Administration at this time is not clear – marks a welcome and accelerated withdrawal timetable. Previously, combat operations were supposed to end in 2014.

The New York Times called the pronouncement “a major milestone toward ending a decade of war in Afghanistan.”

The sooner American military forces exit from Afghanistan – after spending so many lives and treasure – the better.

This step was pressed for in amendments offered last year in the Senate by Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and in the House by Jim McGovern (D-MA) and Walter Jones (R-NC).

Many questions still remain.  While Sec. Panetta has indicated a shift towards an “training, advice and assist”role, there has been too little clarity on what this means, including whether there will be what Panetta calls “an enduring presence” in Afghanistan that could continue for years and what will be the actual timetable for the withdrawal.

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