Showing US commitment to the Afghanistan mission, Defence Secretary Leon Panetta flew into the country to rally the troops and meet Afghan officials.
His visit comes amid heightened tensions over the massacre of 16 Afghan civilians by an American soldier. When he landed at a British airbase, an Afghan man drove a burning truck at high speed onto the runway.
While Panetta was delivering the message that nothing would hasten America’s planned troop withdrawal, in Washington, after a meeting with Britain’s premier, President Barack Obama was saying the same thing.
“At the upcoming NATO summit in my hometown of Chicago we’ll determine the next phase of transition,” Obama told reporters outside the White House. “This includes shifting to a support role next year in 2013 in advance of Afghans taking full responsibility for security in 2014. We’re going to complete this mission and we’re going to do it responsibly, and NATO will maintain an enduring commitment so that Afghanistan never again becomes a safe haven for al-Qaeda to attack our countries.”
Anti-US sentiment in Afghanistan has grown after the recent massacre and the earlier Koran burning incident at an American base. It is feared both may have driven many Afghans over to the Taliban camp raising the prospect of more attacks on US targets.