At a news conference today, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said it was much too soon for NATO to set any sort of timetable for handing over security to Afghan forces, and cautioned that doing so would be counterproductive.
Instead Secretary Gates sees the gradual Iraq handover as a model to be imitated. In that case, when the level of violence dropped the US started handing over responsibility for certain provinces, while keeping the vast majority of US forces on the ground, where they remain to this day.
The comments appeared to be directed at British Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s notion to set a timetable at some point next year. NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Brown’s idea was at least possible, but depended on the security situation on the ground.
But they may also hold some hints into where the Obama administration’s secretive talks on escalation are going. Previous indications were that President Obama was looking for an “end game” strategy. Whatever this means, it seems that it will not include any specific timetables.