Panetta points to "last chapter" in reaching sovereign Afghanistan
Afghanistan was in the "last chapter" of efforts to ensure that it can govern itself and take care of its own security, US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta said Thursday in welcoming Afghan President Hamid Karzai, dpa reported.
"After a long and difficult path, we finally are, I believe, at the last chapter of establishing in Afghanistan a sovereign Afghanistan that can govern and secure itself for the future," Panetta said ahead of talks with the Afghan leader at the Pentagon.
Panetta pointed to the ongoing transition of security operations from US and coalition forces to Afghan troops, calling the next year "a very important one" before the withdrawal of NATO combat troops in 2014. He pledged continued commitment to helping Afghanistan.
"We have sacrificed together. That has created a bond that will not be broken in the future," he said.
Karzai, who is to meet with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton later Thursday, thanked Panetta for the US support and expressed optimism that the countries could work out the details of a bilateral security agreement.
On Friday, he and President Barack Obama will discuss the post-2014 period, as the two countries negotiate an agreement on the future role of US troops.