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0 U.S. plans to end Afghan combat role early, amid Taliban's confidence of Return

(Reuters) - The United States took Kabul by surprise by laying out plans to end its Afghan combat role earlier than expected, just after the leak of a secret report that the Taliban is confident of regaining control of the country.

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said late on Wednesday the United States would stop taking the lead role in combat operations before the end of 2013 and step into a supporting role as it winds down its longest war.
He said U.S. forces would remain "combat-ready" but would largely shift to a train-and-assist role as Afghan forces take over responsibility for security ahead of a 2014 deadline for full Afghan control.
The announcement, ahead of a meeting of NATO defense ministers in Brussels, was greeted with surprise in Kabul, where a senior Afghan security official said the move "throws out the whole transition plan."
"The transition has been planned against a timetable and this makes us rush all our preparations," the official said.
"If the Americans withdraw from combat, it will certainly have an effect on our readiness and training, and on equipping the police force," he said, adding that his government had not been informed of the change in plans.
NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen insisted there was no change in NATO's plans and it expected responsibility for security to be handed over to the Afghan security forces by mid-2013 and for them to have full control at the end of 2014.
"It is of course of crucial importance that this change of role takes place in a coordinated manner," he said, emphasizing that the changes of role would have to take into account "the actual security situation on the ground."

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