Allies on 'irreversible' course to end Afghan war

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President Barack Obama speaks at a news conference at the NATO Summit in Chicago, Monday, May 21, 2012. (AP Photo/Kiichiro Sato)

CHICAGO (AP) — President Barack Obama and leaders around the globe locked in place their exit path from the war in Afghanistan on Monday, affirming they will close the largely stalemated conflict at the end of 2014 but keep their troops fighting and dying there for two more years in the meantime.

Obama, presiding over a sprawling war coalition summit in his hometown, summed up the mood of all the nations by saying the Afghanistan that will be left behind will be stable enough for them to leave but still loaded with troubles.

"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'" Obama said. "This is a process, and it's sometimes a messy process."

Afghan forces for the first time will take over the lead of the combat mission by the middle of 2013, a milestone moment in a long, costly transition to control. Even as backups, though, U.S. forces and all the rest will face surprise attacks and bombings until the war's end.

"The timetable that we've established is a sound one," Obama insisted at a news conference. "Are there risks involved in it? Absolutely."