NATO’s focus over the past decade has largely revolved around the shared, U.S.-led mission in Afghanistan, led by President Hamid Karzai. But dramatic developments in the war-torn country are complicating NATO’s already precarious plans for withdrawal. In March, news leaked of a U.S. sergeant named Robert Bales, who allegedly carried out a civilian massacre that killed 16 Afghans; the story has sparked outrage and renewed international focus on the civilian death toll of 10 years of war. In addition, the Taliban has suspended talks with the United States and, in the past year, Karzai has expressed increasing impatience with the U.S./NATO exit plan.
As of March 16, 2012, President Karzai and President Obama have renewed their public commitment to the official withdrawal timetable, which has U.S. troops suspending direct combat operations in mid-2013 and fully exiting Afghanistan by the end of 2014. The specifics of withdrawal will be discussed on a deeper level at this year’s summit, which President Karzai will attend.