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“It’s a mixed picture. But the most important thing that is happening as far as I am concerned is that the Afghan army is well respected, is now going to be taking the lead,” Mr. Levin said. “And these are very important words for the American public to understand.”

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry said it would be wrong to force a modern, centralized form of government in Afghanistan.

“That would be a big mistake if that were the pattern we were trying to follow,” the Massachusetts Democrat said Sunday on CNN’s “Fareed Zakaria GPS” program. “And I don’t believe that’s what the administration is trying to do.

“I think the administration has a pretty good sense, darned good sense, as a matter of fact, of exactly how difficult it would be to create this centralized model. And they don’t want that.”

Mr. Kerry also said that it would be a mistake if only a “trivial” number of U.S. troops left Afghanistan leading up to July’s deadline to start pulling out forces in Afghanistan, though he added that it would be “folly” for a mass exodus of troops next summer simply to meet an arbitrary deadline.

“The president is not going to suddenly pull the rug out from under the very efforts that we’ve all been engaged in over these years,” he said.

Some U.S. allies aren’t waiting. On Sunday, the Netherlands became the first NATO country to end its combat mission in Afghanistan, which had little domestic support there. Canada and Poland have announced planned withdrawal dates in 2011 and 2012, respectively.

While the loss of about 1,900 Dutch troops likely won’t be militarily significant, it is a political bellwether as doubts about the Afghanistan war continue to grow in Western countries, though NATO forces are starting what might be the war’s decisive campaign.

A surge of mostly U.S. forces recently has taken over responsibility for key areas in Helmand and Kandahar provinces from British and Canadian forces and begun a more aggressive campaign against the Taliban in recent months that has led to increased casualties among Western militaries and Afghan civilians, as well as the Taliban enemy.

The fighting has provoked discontent from Afghan civilians, and more than 200 participated in a Sunday march in Kabul to protest a NATO rocket attack that they blamed for the deaths of more than 50 civilians. NATO disputes that accusation, saying a preliminary investigation shows at most three civilian deaths.

According to the Associated Press, protesters carried photos of dead and wounded children and shouted, “Death to America! Death to NATO!”

“We should not tolerate such attacks. The Americans are invaders who have occupied our country in the name of fighting terrorism,” said 22-year-old Ahmad Jawed, a university student who also blamed the Afghan government. “We don’t have a strong enough government to protect the rights of the Afghan people.”

Meanwhile on Sunday, Mr. Gates said that the website WikiLeaks is morally guilty for releasing classified U.S. documents on the Afghanistan war, saying that he was “mortified” by the leak and its potential to harm U.S. troops and their Afghan allies.

Mr. Gates said that while the government is investigating the legal ramifications of the leaks, WikiLeaks also faces “moral culpability,” a charge that he and uniformed military officials also made last week.

“And that’s where I think the verdict is guilty on WikiLeaks,” he said on ABC’s “This Week.” “They have put this out without any regard whatsoever for the consequences.”

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