Secretary Panetta told reporters Wednesday on the famous Doomsday Plane that America’s combat role in Afghanistan could be over by next year. Then all hell broke loose.
Top lawmakers on Capitol Hill were caught completely off guard — they began firing off announcements questioning or criticizing what appeared to be a new, earlier goal for a U.S. withdrawal. Headlines began to pop up all over the place: America Speeds Up Exit From Afghan War. Everyone wondered: What goes on here?
Panetta said later, and Pentagon spokesmen reiterated, that the 2013 timeline was aspirational, and that it was all within the structure of the existing American commitment to hand over control of the war by the end of 2014. We’ve got to start the transition sometime, DoD seemed to say, so we might as well start soon and hope that by next year, the Afghans will have taken charge of their own security.