Most NATO officials seem determined to use the Lisbon Summit to give the impression that the “end of 2014” date will be a hugely significant point toward ending the Afghan War, leading many to believe they are looking at an “endgame strategy.” This is true perhaps of some (though clearly not all) of the politicians involved in the summit, but the Pentagon is hoping to disavow that date already.
“It does not mean that all US or coalition forces would necessarily be gone by that date,” assured Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell, who made a point of calling the end of 2014 an “aspirational goal,” a term regularly used by the Bush Administration to describe deadlines they had no intention of meeting.
Morrell went on to say that officials didn’t necessarily believe the Afghans would be ready for a withdrawal or even for a transition to the lead role in the war in another 4 years, but said he hoped they might at least reduce the number of troops somewhat.
When announcing his latest massive escalation in December, President Obama promised that the withdrawal from Afghanistan would begin in July 2011. Officials including the president have disavowed the date now, and it seems that 2014 will remain the nominal date, at least so long as it remains far enough in the future that it doesn’t require any policy changes. The Pentagon is making it clear that this is basically for show, and they sure don’t appear to be operating under the assumption that the war is going to end.