Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

NATO Backs Obama's Exit Plan for Afghanistan Country to Control Combat by 2013

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

NATO Backs Obama's Exit Plan for Afghanistan Country to Control Combat by 2013

Article excerpt

CHICAGO -- NATO leaders on Monday adopted President Barack Obama's exit strategy from the nearly 11-year-old U.S.-led intervention in Afghanistan, cementing an "irreversible" pullout of foreign combat troops that will leave Afghan security forces with the leading combat operations role by the summer of 2013.

"We are now unified to responsibly wind down the war in Afghanistan," Mr. Obama declared at a news conference at the close of the two-day summit in his hometown, while acknowledging that serious risks persist. "Afghans can take responsibility for their own country so our troops can come home."

The exit plan leaves Afghanistan facing grave uncertainties: Can its forces assume the main fight against the Taliban-led insurgency and avert a resurgence of the mayhem that raged before the 2001 U.S.- led invasion, which had allowed al-Qaida to establish a virtual parallel state in the country?

The strategy also means that Afghan President Hamid Karzai's weak government will conduct a 2014 election for his successor as the last U.S. and allied combat forces are leaving, potentially jeopardizing the nation's first peaceful political power transfer.

But Mr. Obama and the 27 other alliance leaders are confronting intense pressure from war-weary publics to bring their troops home and focus on restoring growth and creating jobs amid Europe's intensifying financial crisis and overstretched national budgets.

For Mr. Obama, the strategy has required a delicate balance amidst a re-election fight clouded by a weak U.S. economic recovery: He must bow to the majority of Americans, who oppose the war, while reassuring Mr. Karzai and his people that the United States won't abandon them, as it did after the 1979-89 Soviet occupation.

Responding to concerns that the withdrawal of U.S. combat power may be premature, Mr. Obama acknowledged that the Taliban remain "a robust enemy. …

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