May 22 2012
World leaders have set the seal on their exit path from the war in Afghanistan, saying they would close the largely-stalemated conflict at the end of 2014 but keep their troops fighting there for two more years.
US President Barack Obama, presiding over a sprawling war coalition summit in his home town of Chicago, summed up the mood of all the nations by saying the Afghanistan left behind would be stable enough for them to leave - but still loaded with troubles.
In essence, the partners, led by Mr Obama, are staying the course, sticking with a timeline long established and underscoring that there will be no second-guessing the decision to leave.
"I don't think there's ever going to be an optimal point where we say, 'This is all done. This is perfect. This is just the way we wanted it and now we can wrap up all our equipment and go home'," Mr Obama said. "This is a process and it's sometimes a messy process."
Mr Obama never spoke of victory.
Afghan forces will for the first time take over the lead of the combat mission by the middle of 2013, a milestone moment in a long, costly transition to control.
It will be "the moment when throughout Afghanistan people can look out and see their own troops and police stepping up to the challenge", said Nato secretary general Anders Fogh Rasmussen.
Even as back-ups though, US and other forces will face surprise attacks and bombings until the war's end.
Since 2010, the allies have been planning to finish the war at the end of 2014, even as moves by nations such as France to pull combat troops out early has tested the strength of the coalition.
The shift to have Afghan forces take the lead of the combat mission next year has also been expected. Leaders presented it as a significant turning point in the war.