As NATO allies align their Afghanistan security transition strategy in Lisbon, the Obama administration is aligning its own message.While standing alongside his Portuguese counterpart, President Anibal Cavaco Silva, President Obama told reporters Friday, "I look forward to working with our NATO and ISAF partners as we move towards a new phase, a transition to Afghan responsibility that begins in 2011 with Afghan forces taking the lead for security across Afghanistan by 2014. "
Not a day earlier, Pentagon Spokesman Geoff Morrell rounded up the end date to "effectively, 2015."
Asked about the discrepancy between the "end of 2014" as a goal for the final pullout of NATO troops and the comments by Morrell, a White House official tells Fox, "We support a full Afghan lead by 2014. That's our plan. That's our goal. That's what we've been telling people for months. There's no daylight here."
While the separation might seem to be minimal, presenting an agreeable goal for an end date is crucial for skittish allies whose constituencies are tiring of the conflict, which is now going into its tenth year. In fact, the main thrust of this year's summit is for member countries to announce the beginning of the end of NATO troop involvement in Afghanistan and officials have settled on the end of 2014 as the goal for completing that task.
However, the U.S. and its NATO partners have pledged continued training and support for the Afghan security forces as they begin to take both geographical and institutional control over their own country and officials say conditions on the ground will dictate the pace of that withdrawal. The question is when they will let go of the reins.