WASHINGTON (AP) -- Defense Secretary Leon Panetta says the Afghan government's announcement of a new step in putting Afghan forces in charge of the nation's security is evidence that the country is on the path to self-governance.
Panetta commented on Kabul's announcement Monday that the next phase of transferring security responsibilities from NATO to Afghan forces will begin in two months. It's the fourth step in a five-step process that began in 2011 and is scheduled to finish with Afghan forces fully in charge of security by the end of 2014.
By then, the U.S.-led NATO combat mission is to end. The Obama administration is currently considering how many U.S. troops it would keep there for a follow-on mission, which likely would include counterterrorism.
There are now 66,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan.