"There is a strong consensus [among NATO members]," said U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta from NATO Headquarters in Brussels, "that our mission [in Afghanistan] is succeeding." Speaking on Afghanistan at NATO’s Defense Ministerial, he added, "It's succeeding on the ground because of the growing role and capabilities that all of [our countries] have seen of the Afghan National Security Forces."
The Afghan National Security Forces, or ANSF, are now in the lead for nearly 90 percent of combat operations. And they are on track to step into the lead for all of these operations by later this year, allowing NATO-led forces to move into a supporting role.
The United States recently announced that it will begin a drawdown that will take troop levels to 34,000 by February of 2014. The U.S. will maintain that number in order to assist the Afghans in providing sufficient security for the elections in 2014.
Once those elections are complete, the U.S. will begin a further drawdown of forces, in order to meet the goal of completing the transition to an ANSF lead for security at the end of 2014. "I have full confidence," said Defense Secretary Panetta, "that we'll be able to achieve our goal of giving the ANSF full responsibility for security nationwide by the end of 2014 and successfully complete this mission."
NATO has begun to discuss how to implement its commitment to the long-term security of Afghanistan. At the May 2012 Chicago Summit, leaders agreed to begin developing a post-2014 NATO-led mission in Afghanistan that will train, advise, and assist the ANSF after the end of the combat mission. NATO has begun planning this mission.
As the United States weighs its force posture options and consults with the Afghan government on a post-2014 presence, the U.S. will continue to work very closely with its allies and International Security Assistance Force nations to continue to discuss a range of options with regards to what the NATO force will look like in that post-2014 period.
The goal, said Secretary of Defense Panetta, "is to ensure the success of this new mission and the long-term stability of Afghanistan. We've made a commitment to a strong enduring presence, and we intend to stand by that commitment."