"The Obama Administration and several of its partner countries are seeking to reduce U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan without jeopardizing existing gains. In a May 1, 2012, visit to Afghanistan, President Obama said the United States and its partners are within reach of the fundamental goal of defeating Al Qaeda, and he signed a strategic partnership agreement that will keep small amounts of U.S. troops in Afghanistan after 2014 as advisors and trainers. During 2011-2014, the United States and its partners are gradually transferring overall security responsibility to Afghan security forces. U.S. forces, which peaked at about 99,000 in June 2011, are being reduced to about 68,000 by September 2012, and President Obama said that 'reductions will continue at a steady pace' from then until the completion of the transition to Afghan lead at the end of 2014. A key to the transition is to place Afghan forces in the security lead, with U.S. military involvement changing from combat to a training and advising role, by mid-2013. The Administration view is that, no matter the U.S. and allied drawdown schedule, security gains could be at risk from weak Afghan governance and insurgent safe haven in Pakistan. This latter factor is widely noted as a potential threat to Afghan stability well after the 2014 transition. Afghan governance is perceived as particularly weak and corrupt, despite the holding of regular elections since 2004 and the establishment of several overlapping anti-corruption institutions. As the transition proceeds, there is increasing emphasis on negotiating a settlement to the conflict. That process has proceeded sporadically since 2010, and has not, by all accounts, advanced to a discussion of specific proposals to settle the conflict, although there have been discussions of a ceasefire. Afghanistan's minorities and women's groups worry about a potential settlement, fearing it might produce compromises with the Taliban that erode human rights and ethnic powersharing."
CRS Report for Congress, RL30588