Panetta arrives in Afghanistan as 2014 troop withdrawal looms
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KABUL, Afghanistan U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has arrived in Afghanistan on an unannounced visit to consult with top commanders and President Hamid Karzai.
The visit Wednesday comes at a difficult juncture in the Western coalition's efforts to shift more security responsibilities to Afghan forces so the combat mission can end in 2014.
Panetta said earlier Wednesday in Kuwait, where he gave a pep talk to U.S. troops, that President Obama will decide within a few weeks how many U.S. troops to keep in Afghanistan beyond 2014.
"Part of the reason for this trip is to talk with General (John) Allen and to discuss with him some of the options that are being prepared for the President's consideration," Panetta told CBS Radio News correspondent Cami McCormick, referring to the commander of U.S. troops in the country. "Our hope is that we can complete that process in the next few weeks."
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Panetta told McCormick, "once the President's made the decision" about post-2014 troop levels, "that will then give General Allen the opportunity to figure out then what the drawdown ought to be to that number, and over what period of time."
While security has generally improved lately, the Afghan government's ability to effectively govern and to root out corruption is in great doubt. Peace talks with the Taliban are on a back burner.
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