Obama expected to announce 2014 target for Afghan transition

President Obama is expected to announce a goal of transferring all security responsibilities to Afghanistan by the end of 2014 when he attends the NATO summit in Portugal this weekend.

Senior administration officials on Tuesday briefed reporters on Obama's trip, saying Obama's announcement will likely come with a NATO announcement that it will commit to an "enduring" presence in the region to help the Afghans stand on their own.

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Gen. Doug Lute, special assistant to Obama for Afghanistan and Pakistan, called the summit a "strategic milestone" for the mission in Afghanistan.

Lute said Obama is sticking with his strategy of beginning the transfer of security responsibilities to Afghanistan next year, but the president will announce this weekend that his goal is to complete that transfer by 2014.

"Now this won't happen overnight," Lute said. "It won't be a single event."

Lute emphasized that the process will be gradual and conditions on the ground will determine "how and when the transition can take place."

The announcement comes just before the December review of the strategy in Afghanistan and Pakistan, when Obama will hear what is and is not going right in the military and diplomatic strategies.

Administration officials said last week that the annual review of Obama's strategy will not include suggested policy changes but will instead focus on a diagnostic look at the strategy. 

Obama's goal will likely provide some comfort to Democrats who have worried for years about an open-ended commitment in Afghanistan, but Republicans, leery of a timeline, are unlikely to support Obama's plan. 

At the NATO meeting on Afghanistan Saturday morning, the 48 coalition partners will be represented and Afghan President Hamid Karzai will speak.

Karzai told The Washington Post this weekend that it is time for U.S. and NATO forces to begin lessening their presence in Afghanistan.

"The call for self-reliance is closely linked" to what Obama and NATO will announce this weekend, Lute said.

Senior administration officials praised the announcement by Canada Tuesday that after it ends its combat mission in 2011, the country will leave 950 trainers in Afghanistan to help security forces take responsibility.

By making that announcement, Canada is "at the forefront" of what other coalition partners are trying to do over the next three to four years, said Ben Rhodes, Obama's deputy national security adviser for strategic communications.

Rhodes said Obama welcomed the announcement, and he praised the country's contributions, saying the gains that have been made in Afghanistan "would not have been possible without the robust commitment of the Canadians."

"Canada has been an indispensable partner in Afghanistan over the last several years," Rhodes said.