Plan for early end to U.S. combat role catches Afghan officials by surprise.

Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta shakes hands with President…

Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta shakes hands with President Hamid Karzai at a press conference in Kabul, Afghanistan, on December 14, 2011. Panetta stated that the U.S. is committed to working with the Afghan government to produce a free and independent country. DoD photo by Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo.

US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta announced yesterday that American troops in Afghanistan would step back from their combat role in Afghanistan as early as mid-2013, more than a year before the full withdrawal scheduled for 2014.

The announcement caught the Afghan government and Army by surprise, Reuters reports. “A decision to push this a year earlier throws out the whole transition plan. The transition has been planned against a timetable and this makes us rush all our preparations,” a senior Afghan security 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,” the official said, adding that the US did not inform Afghanistan ahead of the announcement.

Source: Ariel Zirulnick for Christian Science Monitor.

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