White House clarifies Panetta's Afghan remarks
The White House on Thursday downplayed remarks by Defence Secretary Leon Panetta that the US could seek to end its combat role in Afghanistan earlier than planned, DPA reported.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said Panetta's remarks were outlining discussions that he would be having with other defence ministers during a NATO meeting in Brussels, but did not indicate a shift in policy.
Panetta said Wednesday that the United States is aiming for an end to its combat role in Afghanistan by the second half of 2013. The United States' and NATO's aim has been to withdraw all combat troops by the end of 2014.
"Our goal is to complete all of that transition in 2013," the Washington Post quoted Panetta as saying. "Hopefully, by mid to the latter part of 2013, we'll be able to make a transition from a combat role."
Carney said the goal remained a transfer to Afghan forces by 2014, but that it could happen sooner depending on circumstances. The topic would be a matter of discussion at a NATO summit set for May in Chicago, he said.