WASHINGTON — Leaders of the United States and Britain outlined plans Wednesday to shift the NATO war effort in Afghanistan toward a back-seat advisory role while Afghan forces increasingly take the lead, but stressed that the two nations remain committed to the mission there.
President Barack Obama gave his fullest endorsement yet of the mission shift, but he said the overall plan to gradually withdraw forces and hand over security in Afghanistan will stand.
Obama said he anticipates no "sudden, immediate changes to the plan we already have" for bringing forces home.
The United States and Britain have the largest fighting forces in Afghanistan, where the combat is in its 11th year. The United States, Britain and other NATO nations have already agreed to keep forces in the country through 2014, when Afghan President Hamid Karzai will leave office.
"At the upcoming NATO summit in my hometown of Chicago, we'll determine the next phase of transition," Obama said following a private meeting at the White House with visiting British Prime Minister David Cameron. "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."
Obama acknowledged the drop in public support at home for the war, but he also said he thinks most people in the United States and Britain understand the reasons for continuing the fight.
Cameron, who joined Obama for a joint Rose Garden news conference, said security is better in Afghanistan, and he praised the U.S. strategy to add more than 30,000 forces in a "surge" against the Taliban-led militants in 2009.
The goal of keeping Afghanistan from again becoming a terrorist haven is achievable by the end of 2014, Cameron said.
Both leaders had strong words on Syria, where the government of President Bashar Assad is accused of killing some 7,500 people during a yearlong uprising.
They made clear, however, that they do not favor outside military action. Obama suggested that premature military intervention could hasten a civil war and lead to even more bloodshed.