BY Sean Alfano
Daily News Staff Writer
Afghanistan will be ready to defend itself by 2014, top Pentagon officials said Monday.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen both back Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai's proposal to turn over security responsibilities to Afghans in four years.
"As a target at this point that makes sense," Mullen told reporters during a trip to Australia. Mullen, however, added, "we're clearly not there yet."
Karzai's proposal will be debated at NATO's annual meeting later this month in Lisbon, Portugal.
The U.S. currently has 100,000 troops in Afghanistan as the war enters its 10th year. By July 2011, the U.S. plans to withdraw all of its troops.
Gates, though, said America's obligations to Afghanistan will be indefinite. He also batted back criticism that setting a date allows the Taliban to wait for American forces to leave before resuming violent attacks throughout the country.
"People say 'you picked July 2011 and that lets the Taliban know that there's an end date.' Well, I hope the Taliban think that's an end date because it's not," Gates told Reuters.
"And they're going to be very surprised come August, September, October and November, when most American forces are still there and still coming after them."