By STEVEN ERLANGER and JACKIE CALMES
At a closed-door meeting here, Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top American and NATO commander in Afghanistan, set out his strategy for the transition, confirming that the kind of operations Mr. Karzai has criticized, including drone missile strikes and nighttime raids, would continue aggressively.
In a separate NATO-Russia summit meeting here that both sides called historic, President Dmitri A. Medvedev of Russia agreed to explore cooperation with the alliance on a missile-defense system that would protect all of Europe.
After the summit meeting, Mr. Medvedev and Mr. Obama had a “very cordial” unscheduled 20-minute meeting without aides that Mr. Obama initiated, according to two administration officials who spoke to reporters aboard Air Force One on the return to Washington on Saturday night.
The two leaders discussed several issues, including the New Start arms control agreement that Republicans in the Senate are blocking.
But the main work of the day was Afghanistan.
Mr. Rasmussen said he and Mr. Karzai had agreed to “a long-term partnership between NATO and Afghanistan that will endure beyond our combat mission.”
He said the aim of the agreement was to hand security responsibility to Afghan forces by the end of 2014, and for foreign troops serving in the coalition, known as the International Security Assistance Force, or ISAF, to cease combat by then. But that deadline was also hedged.
“I don’t foresee ISAF troops in a combat role beyond 2014, provided of course that the security situation allows us to move into a more supportive role,” he said.
Mr. Obama also confirmed the American military, which now has about 100,000 troops in Afghanistan, would remain in some form. “Certainly, our footprint will have been significantly reduced,” he said. “But beyond that, you know, it’s hard to anticipate exactly what is going to be necessary.”
He added, “it is a goal to make sure that we are not still engaged in combat operations of the sort that we’re involved with now.”
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, who was in Chile, said only a “fraction” of the current allied forces in Afghanistan would be likely to remain past 2014, and they would be “very much focused on the kind of train and advise and assist role that we’re now taking on in Iraq.”
Officials have said that NATO’s withdrawal was contingent on the ability of Afghan forces to take on their new responsibilities.
“2014 is a goal, not a guarantee,” Mark Sedwill, NATO’s top civilian representative in Kabul, said Saturday. Last week he said that poor security in some areas could delay the pullout date, and that Afghanistan could face “eye-watering levels of violence by Western standards.”
20 11 he offered a brighter outlook, saying that a 2014 withdrawal was “realistic and we’ve made plans to achieve it, but of course if circumstances agree, it could be sooner.”
A senior American official, who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity, said that 1,500 trainers were already in place. He said that all 34 Afghan provinces had been graded into different categories of security and stability. But decisions on which provinces will first be handed over to Afghan control have not yet been made, the official said.
But, he warned: “No one should read out of Lisbon that the fighting is over. There is a lot of hard fighting that lies ahead.”
The longer NATO commitment comes as public opinion across Europe is increasingly opposed to the war in Afghanistan, which began in 2001 as retaliation for the attacks of that Sept. 11. But with a shift from combat operations to police and army training, European diplomats here said they hoped to buy some time with the public by emphasizing nation building instead of combat.
Many NATO nations have insisted that they will remove all their troops by 2014, and the British foreign secretary, William Hague, said Saturday that his country would end its combat role in Afghanistan by 2015.
“Make no mistake about it, that is an absolute commitment and deadline for us,” he told The Press Association news agency.
General Petraeus, in his presentation, said that “we are beginning to see a return on our investment” and that “we have broken the Taliban’s momentum,” according to a senior European official in the room. But the official added: “Is it true or not? I’m not so sure.” He said, “to many of us, it begins to have the ring of Vietnam,” of confident military assessments that were not always accurate.
In the NATO-Russia meeting, President Medvedev said that Russia was “bolstering our cooperation” with NATO to “develop a strategic partnership.”
While he did not commit to joining the planned antimissile shield in Europe proposed by the Obama administration, he agreed that Russian defense specialists would participate in a technical study with their NATO counterparts to determine how such a system would work.
While he insisted that Russia would not participate in anything less that “a full-fledged strategic partnership,” he also said that the phased system of mobile radars and missiles proposed by the Obama administration did not threaten Russian interests the way President Bush’s fixed-missile defense system seemed to.
Mr. Medvedev said that a failure by the Senate to ratify the New Start treaty “would be very unpleasant,” though he said that he expected the treaty to be ratified eventually, and that Mr. Obama had promised “to work vigorously” for ratification.
If the treaty failed, he said, “The work of many people aimed at a general relaxation of tensions and resetting of relations with the United States and NATO, in that case, all that would be in vain.”
Some NATO allies remain anxious about cooperating with Russia on missile defense. But Mr. Obama has made it clear to the Baltic states that there is no question of sharing a missile defense system with Moscow or giving the Russians any control over the NATO system.
NATO and Russia also agreed here to work together on shared security threats, including terrorism, drug trafficking, piracy and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Controversial issues, like the 2008 Russian-Georgian war, should be set aside and not stand in the way of cooperation, Mr. Medvedev said.
Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany called the opening to Russia “an historic new chapter” in relations with NATO and the West. She said she supported the ratification of New Start “because it will really end the cold war.” About Russia, she said: “A former military adversary is now clearly a partner.”
“Of course there’s still a long road ahead of us, to build security with Russia, but to start on this road has extraordinary importance,” she said.
NATO and Moscow also signed agreements to expand the alliance’s supply routes to Afghanistan through Russia, to set up a new training program in Russia for counternarcotics agents from Afghanistan and other Central Asian countries, on a program to train Afghan helicopter crews, and to buy more Russian helicopters for Afghan forces.
When asked about the 2014 goal for Afghanistan, Mr. Medvedev spoke of Moscow’s own experiences there. “It’s difficult for me to tell if that is realistic,” he said. “The current situation is far from quiet. I have some doubts.”