Marco Werman: I'm Marco Werman, this is The World. President Obama calls the war in Afghanistan "America's longest war" and as far as he's concerned, it's going to be over by the end of 2014. The President said so unequivocally in his State of the Union speech last night.
"President Barack Obama: With Afghan forces now in the lead for their own security, our troops have moved to a support role. Together with our allies, we will complete our mission there by the end of this year and America's longest war will finally be over.
Werman: Trouble is the actual conflict on the ground is far from over. The taliban fighters haven't gone away. Concerns about Al-Qaeda are still there too, which might explain why many Afghans are feeling less optimistic about the war winding down. Kathy Gannon covers Afghanistan and Pakistan for the Associated Press. She says that despite President Obama's words last night, it's not at all clear how many US troops might remain in Afghanistan in a year's time.
Kathy Gannon: The problem is that the US and NATO are quite concerned whether they'll be able to leave behind a residual force. Maybe between 8,000 to 10,000 soldiers, perhaps another 2,000 to 4,000 NATO soldiers to provide some assistance in security but also to at least hunt down remnants of Al-Qaeda that still remains. So yes, the Taliban have certainly not gone away. They're quite strong in different parts of Afghanistan, in the south and the east. The US has certainly tried to start negotiating with the Taliban, but there's been a lot of difficulty.
Werman: If the Bilateral Security Agreement does go into effect, as you say, there will probably be a few thousand Americans remaining there to help with training and counterterrorism missions, but that was pretty much Joe Biden was pushing 5 years ago. Have these 5 years of sacrifice and blood and treasure made any difference to Afghanistan?
Gannon: There's still a lot of uncertainty that still exists in Afghanistan, much the same as it did 5 years ago. So does it mean that Afghanistan has gone back a little bit? Perhaps a little. People are worried that that has happened. The US is very clear at this point that regardless of any successes or failures, the war is over in Afghanistan as of the end of 2014. The President was very clear that he wants to step away from the war footing.
Werman: Kathy, finally, now that we're in this red letter year of 2014 for the Afpak region, are you already sensing a more tense mood now that we're here?
Gannon: It's tense for the Afghan forces - they're quite concerned. They do feel that the training has been inadequate. They do feel that they do not have the equipment that they need. The Taliban, where they were more conciliatory last summer, they are less conciliatory today. People are very uncertain about what will happen after 2014. They don't know whether the US and NATO will stay behind or what it will mean. A lot of people are arming again. Militias are reappearing and rearming. It's a very uncertain time ahead.
Werman: It's certainly a tough year ahead in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Kathy Gannon of the AP in Islamabad, thank you.
Gannon: Thank you very much.