(CNSNews.com) - Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney on Monday night agreed with President Obama's plan to withdraw most U.S. troops from Afghanistan in 2014, a deadline that is well known to America's enemies.
"Well, we’re going to be finished by 2014," Romney said at the third and final presidential debate Monday night. "And when I’m president, we’ll make sure we bring our troops out by the end of 2014. The commanders and the generals there are on track to do so. We’ve seen progress over the past several years. The surge has been successful, and the training program is proceeding at pace. There are now a large number of Afghan security forces, 350,000, that are — are ready to step in to provide security. And — and we’re going to be able to make that transition by the end of — of 2014. So our troops’ll come home at that point."
In the past, however, Romney has criticized President Obama for broadcasting the 2014 withdrawal date: "In Afghanistan, the surge was right, announcing a withdrawal date was wrong. The Taliban may not have watches, but they do have calendars," Romney said in June 2011.
At Monday's debate, Romney did not explain what progress he's seen in Afghanistan. But in recent months, the U.S. effort in Afghanistan has been seriously hampered by so-called "green on blue" or "insider" attacks, in which Afghan troops turn their guns on the American soldiers who are training them.
Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, last month called the insider attacks "a very serious threat to the campaign.”
"We're all seized with [the insider attack] problem,” Dempsey said. “You can’t whitewash it. We can’t convince ourselves that we just have to work harder to get through it. Something has to change.”
Another open question is the training itself: Will Afghans be ready to take over security for their country when the majority of U.S. and NATO troops leave in 2014?
According to the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), the Afghan National Security Forces (army and police) now number 352,000, but attrition rates are high.
And after 11 years of war -- and some 2,000 Americans killed -- the Taliban and other terrorist networks are still active, both in Afghanistan and in neighboring Pakistan.
Romney said on Monday that what's happening in Pakistan will affect Afghanistan. "And I say that because I know a lot of people just feel like we should just brush our hands and walk away. And I don’t mean you, Mr. President, but some people in the — in our nation feel that Pakistan isn't being nice to us and that we should just walk away from them.
"But Pakistan is important to the region, to the world and to us, because Pakistan has 100 nuclear warheads, and they’re rushing to build a lot more. They’ll have more than Great Britain sometime in the — in the relatively near future. They also have the Haqqani network and — and the Taliban existent within their country. And so a — a Pakistan that falls apart, becomes a failed state would be of extraordinary danger to Afghanistan and us."
Romney said the U.S. must "remain helpful" in nudging Pakistan towards a "more stable government" and towards rebuilding its relationship with the United States.
"And that means that — that — that our aid that we provide to Pakistan is going to have to be conditioned upon certain benchmarks being met." He did not elaborate on those benchmarks.