Troops to leave Afghanistan in 2011 |

Troops to leave Afghanistan in 2011

President hopes Afghanistan soldiers can secure country by 2014

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) – Message to the Taliban: Forget July 2011, the date that President Barack Obama set to begin withdrawing U.S. forces from Afghanistan. The more important date is 2014 when the international coalition hopes Afghan soldiers and policemen will be ready to take the lead in securing the nation.

That date will be the focus of discussions later this month at a NATO summit in Lisbon, Portugal, the third and largest international meeting on Afghanistan this year.

Heads of state and other officials there will talk about how to assess security and other conditions so that government security forces can begin to take control of some of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces next spring, allowing international forces to go home or move to other parts of the country.

“NATO emissaries are still bargaining over exactly how many troops will remain after departure day and for what purposes,” says Leslie H. Gelb, president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations. “Details aside, the devastating truth is that U.S. forces will be fighting in Afghanistan for at least four more years.”

The 2014 target date isn’t new. Afghan President Hamid Karzai said in his November 2009 inauguration speech that he wanted Afghans to take responsibility for security across the country in four years. But that was all but forgotten the next month when Obama announced he was dispatching 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan, but hoped to start a gradual pullout in July 2011 – if conditions are deemed secure enough.