Calling 2011 a "critical year" for the United States military effort in Afghanistan, U.S. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell is due back in the United States on Tuesday after visiting commanders, political leaders and troops in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The Associated Press reports on McConnell's visit:
"It's clear that 2011 is a critical year for us here in Afghanistan," McConnell said. "It's the year in which the Afghan security forces are going to have to continue to step up and play a bigger role."
McConnell said the goal is to hand over increased responsibilities to Afghan security forces by 2014, but he warned that doesn't necessarily mean NATO withdrawal.
"But there is no artificial time period for withdrawal," McConnell said. "The Taliban needs to understand that."
McConnell said he also was able to meet with troops, including some from Fort Campbell's 101st Airborne Division, where he found morale high.
McConnell said he was "deeply impressed" by the troops and said "they've done a spectacular job."
"They're making enormous sacrifices to defend our freedoms at home," he said.