The timetable is clear now. While an exit goal by the end of 2014 has been known for some time, the United States, NATO countries and others have agreed on a schedule for drawing down combat troops from Afghanistan.
The NATO summit held in Chicago this week, the largest in NATO's history, made it clear that Americans and our allies can now start planning a post-Afghanistan future.
Up until now, President Barack Obama has not been at all clear about the scope and pace of the drawdown. Now we know.
Today, 129,000 troops from 50 nations are in Afghanistan 90,000 from the United States. With the exception of some trainers, advisers and Special Forces, they will be out by the end of 2014.
The transition comes in five phases. The first was completed in 2011, the second is under way, the third begins this summer. By the end of this year, the Afghan government will be responsible for the security of 75 percent of the Afghan population and all 34 provincial capitals.
No exact date has been set for on when the fourth phase will begin. But the fifth phase, turning lead responsibility to the Afghans in all provinces, starts by mid-2013 in order to end by Dec. 31, 2014.
This announcement has been overshadowed by ongoing issues with neighboring Pakistan, but that should not detract from this statement of unity from the participating countries.
Osama bin Laden's death has, in fact, been a game-changer in Afghanistan. The leadership of al-Qaida has long been disrupted and dismantled. The Taliban is a manageable presence.
Irritations over supply routes and U.S. drone strikes against targets in Pakistan should not get in the way of the big picture.
In fact, these disputes signal the post-Afghanistan challenge. Diplomacy with rivals Pakistan and India will have to increase to defuse contests over Afghanistan and reduce instability in the larger region. The drawdown provides the opportunity and the resources to make that important shift in focus.
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