President Obama's exit plan for Afghanistan is growing clearer, according to reports emerging from a meeting in Brussels between several NATO leaders, including U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta. But it's not yet certain how many American troops (as opposed to troops from NATO allies) will bear the weight of maintaining peace in post-war Afghanistan — a key question emerging from the President's State of the Union address, during which he avowed that "by the end of next year, our war in Afghanistan will be over."
According to a dispatch by the Associated Press, Panetta and his colleagues established a baseline military presence of 8,000 troops, but found themselves in disagreement about which country, or countries, would supply those troops. The U.S. may be the country best positioned to maintain a presence in Afghanistan, given the fact that 66,000 American troops are currently deployed there and training Afghan forces in the transition. But the Department of Defense is likely to face significant cuts soon, and the thing about making promises — as Obama has about Afghanistan — is that you have to (try to) keep them. On that front, Obama, along with his impending Defense Secretary nominee Chuck Hagel, have their work cut out for them: as Obama promised during his State of the Union address, 34,000 troops will come home by the end of 2013.