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Afghanistan: Is 2014 the new 2011 for Pentagon war planners?

Senior military officials are now playing down the July 2011 deadline Obama had set for starting US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan. Instead, the Pentagon is talking up late 2014 as handover date.

By Anna MulrineStaff writer / November 16, 2010

Afghan President Hamid Karzai (R) and commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan Gen. David Petraeus meet at the Presidential Palace in Kabul, Afghanistan on July 3. Petraeus arrived on July 2 to assume command of the international military mission in Afghanistan.

Massoud Hossaini/UPI/Pool/File

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Washington

Senior US military officials are increasingly deemphasizing the July 2011 deadline set by President Obama earlier this year for beginning US troop withdrawals from Afghanistan, instead talking up a 2014 date cited by President Hamid Karzai as the year he would like Afghans to take over their own security throughout the country.

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But as the Pentagon begins to shift emphasis to the end of 2014 – with White House backing – there is concern about what becomes of the sense of urgency that the earlier date was meant to communicate to the Karzai administration.

This comes amid evidence, too, that Mr. Karzai has in mind a considerably different approach to US operations than do senior US military officials. Such differences prompted NATO commander Gen. David Petraeus to express his “astonishment and disappointment” on the heels of Karzai’s recent remarks that, among other things, he wanted US troops to be less intrusive in the lives of Afghans.

IN PICTURES: Fighting continues in Afghanistan

Petreaus also reportedly speculated during a private meeting about what might happen in a "hypothetical" scenario in which the general might be forced to pull back on US operations in the wake of Karzai's remarks, according to a Washington Post report – presumably an effort to place pressure on Karzai.

Many US military officials dismiss Karzai’s comments as primarily for public consumption at home, and point out that a 2014 date to end US combat operations in Afghanistan gives Karzai some political breathing room. The same is true for the Obama administration.

Over at the Pentagon, too, it has been clear for weeks that military officials have been slowly backing away from July 2011 as a date that will hold much meaning for most US troops on the ground.

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates last week emphasized that July 2011 is hardly an end date for US troop involvement in Afghanistan and that “most” US forces will continue to fight in Afghanistan long after next summer has come and gone.

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