U.S. plans to end Afghan combat mission in 2013

The Guardian reports: The US plans to wind down its war in Afghanistan a year or more earlier than scheduled by ending its combat role in the second half of 2013.

Defence secretary Leon Panetta said no decision has been made on how quickly to draw down American and other Nato forces, but that the shift away from fighting is being brought forward. At the same time, Nato is considering reducing the planned size of the Afghan army because of the cost involved.

“Hopefully by mid to the latter part of 2013 we’ll be able to make a transition from a combat role to a training, advise and assist role,” Panetta said on his way to Brussels for a Nato meeting about Afghanistan. “It’s still a pretty robust role that we’ll be engaged in. It’s not going to be a kind of formal combat role that we are [in] now.”

The US has about 90,000 soldiers in Afghanistan. Nearly one quarter of the contingent is due to be pulled out by the autumn. The rest were to have been withdrawn by the end of 2014.

Panetta said some Nato forces will remain in Afghanistan until then but in what Washington calls a training and support role.

Meanwhile, the Associated Press reports: The Taliban dismissed reports they are preparing to talk peace with the Afghan government, and a NATO report leaked Wednesday shows captured insurgents full of confidence they will seize power after international troops leave.

While both were setbacks to President Hamid Karzai’s quest to broker peace with the Taliban, his government got a big boost from Pakistan’s top diplomat who declared her nation’s support for an Afghan-led reconciliation process.

Still, steps toward finding a political resolution to the 10-year-old war continue to be bogged down in discussions among the U.S. and its partners over venues, agendas and conflicting interests.

Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar said she was visiting Kabul to deliver the strong message that Pakistan would stand behind any peace initiative that was widely supported by all ethnic groups in Afghanistan.

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