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New York Times: "NATO Agrees on Afghan Security Transition in 2013"

 CHICAGO — President Obama and the leaders of America’s NATO allies on Monday agreed to end their guiding role in the decade-long war in Afghanistan next summer, saying it is time for the Afghan people to take responsibility for their own security and for the United States-led international troops to go home.

Declaring that “our forces broke the Taliban’s momentum,” Mr. Obama used the summit meeting of NATO leaders here in his adopted hometown to begin an exit from a conflict he embraced during his first campaign for president as America’s good war.

“We’re now unified behind a plan to responsibly wind down the war in Afghanistan,” Mr. Obama said during a news conference after the meeting. He called the decision a “major step” toward the end of the war.

But Mr. Obama acknowledged that “real challenges” remained in dealing with the problems across the border in Pakistan, and that the conference had not resolved the impasse over reopening supply lines or the other tensions about the fight against insurgents operating from safe havens there.

“We think that Pakistan has to be part of the solution in Afghanistan,” he said. “Neither country is going to have the kind of security, stability and prosperity that it needs unless they can resolve some of these outstanding issues.”

Pakistan closed supply lines to Afghanistan after an American airstrike in November that killed 24 Pakistani solders. Mr. Obama has refused to apologize for the strike, as Pakistan has demanded in negotiations with the Americans, and he pointedly exchanged only a few words with the country’s president, Asif Ali Zardari, during the two-day summit meeting — “very brief, as we were walking into the summit,” he said. The two men also stood and spoke briefly with the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, before all three joined the other leaders for a group photograph.

The plans to withdraw from Afghanistan are “irreversible,” Mr. Obama and the world leaders said in their communiqué, a deliberate word choice that underscored the political reality in America and in Europe. After 10 years of war and with the global economy reeling, the nations of the West no longer want to pay, either in treasure or in lives, the costs of their efforts in a place that for centuries has resisted foreign attempts to tame it.

“The Taliban is still a robust enemy, and the gains are still fragile,” Mr. Obama conceded.

“But think about it. We’ve been there now 10 years,” he said. “Ten years in a country that’s very different, that’s a strain, not only on our folks but also on that country, which at a point is going to be very sensitive about its own sovereignty.”

Mr. Obama and his fellow leaders said they were not abandoning Afghanistan. “Afghanistan will not stand alone,” they declared in their formal statement. “We affirm our close partnership will continue beyond the end of the transition period.”

That period begins now. Afghan national security forces will soon be in the lead role keeping the peace for around 75 percent of the population, NATO and Afghan officials said. But significantly, Afghan forces are not in the lead in many heavily contested areas in the south and the east of the country, where Taliban and Pakistan-based insurgents continue to engage NATO troops in day-by-day battles for control.

By next summer, the Afghan forces will have to assume those lead roles even in the heavily contested areas.

How that will come to pass remains to be seen. American military officials, as recently as Sunday, said they fully expected that American troops would continue fighting after next summer. In fact, the American presence in Afghanistan will continue even after 2014. The strategic partnership agreement between the United States and Afghanistan calls for a residual troop presence after 2014 to act in an advisory role.

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--Helene Cooper and Matthew Rosenberg, New York Times