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Gen. Petraeus also sought to counter skepticism, even defeatism, that was on display last month during hearings in Washington when lawmakers challenged Pentagon assertions that progress was being made in the war.

He acknowledged that the fight in Afghanistan has been grueling, but insisted progress had been made: 7 million Afghan children in school compared with fewer than 1 million a decade ago; child immunization rates at 70 percent or higher; new roads; and bustling economies in several cities.

When announcing the 2011 target, Mr. Obama was careful to say that any pullout decisions would be based on improved security. Yet that caveat has often been forgotten.

Mr. Obama’s timetable has provided the Afghan government the impetus to implement reforms and bolster governance deeper into the provinces. But it also fueled fears in Afghanistan that the U.S. commitment was fading in the almost 9-year-old war.