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That killing in Afghanistan and other recent setbacks in the war have raised calls for the U.S. to leave sooner. Even some of the Republican presidential candidates say it's time to pull out - not Mitt Romney. NPR's Ari Shapiro explains where Romney stands.

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: President Obama says the U.S. combat mission in Afghanistan will be done by the end of 2014. So one simple way to compare strategies for Afghanistan is to ask this question: Would a President Romney bring American troops home before President Obama or after? Ambassador Rich Williamson is a senior foreign policy adviser to the Romney campaign.

RICH WILLIAMSON: That is a legitimate question, but it doesn't have a quick, simple answer.

SHAPIRO: The answer is murky and complicated, if it's even there at all. Let's start with Romney's view of President Obama's timetable. At a town hall meeting in Maryland this week, Romney blasted the idea of a preset end date.

(SOUNDBITE OF BROADCAST)

MITT ROMNEY: It's unthinkable that you say: Here's the date we're going to leave, regardless of the circumstances, because that only communicates, one, to the enemy, that at some point certain you're leaving. And so they can say, well, let's either hold back until that point or let's be aggressive. But they make their plans based upon knowing your plans, when we don't know theirs.

SHAPIRO: So according to Romney, there should be no firm public finish line to the war. That does not sit well with the American people, who overwhelmingly want the U.S. out of Afghanistan. Romney adviser Rich Williamson says Romney wants the U.S. out, too.

WILLIAMSON: Governor Romney is committed to success of the mission, but he absolutely wants to get the American troops home as soon as possible.

SHAPIRO: Those two goals may not be compatible: On the one hand, stay until we win; on the other hand, bring the troops home as soon as possible. The question is how any leader reconciles those two objectives. Or put differently, without timetables, would a President Romney get the troops out faster or slower than a President Obama? Williamson says Romney would get them home sooner but not because of what he calls an artificial deadline.

WILLIAMSON: We will have a better strategy, better leadership, more firm commitment, and that will result in American troops able to return home sooner.

SHAPIRO: In other words, Williamson says, Americans will come home sooner because the U.S. will win the war more quickly. It's a win-win. And Democratic Congressman Adam Smith of Washington state says it's a fantasy.

REPRESENTATIVE ADAM SMITH: They're trying to get the best of both worlds. Like, you know, it's a bad policy to pull out too soon. Well then, you want to stay longer? Well, I didn't say that.

SHAPIRO: Smith is the top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee.

SMITH: What they're doing is they're taking advantage of the fact that the president is the only one who actually has to implement a policy here. They're sort of - they can imagine a world where, well, we just want things to go better. We wouldn't commit more troops to it.

SHAPIRO: But Romney gets more sympathy from Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

DR. ANTHONY CORDESMAN: I think the question is, is it credible that a presidential candidate can really have enough information to give specifics as distinguished from a broad set of policies? In this case, the answer has to be no.

SHAPIRO: Cordesman says Romney is not being mushy on Afghanistan; he's being prudent.

CORDESMAN: At this point in time, he's not being briefed, except from people outside the system, outside the White House. And he's going to be briefed by people whose perceptions are generally broad and in policy terms, not on the basis of any clear plan.

SHAPIRO: This is a point Romney himself has made, speaking last Sunday on Fox News.

(SOUNDBITE OF FOX NEWS BROADCAST)

ROMNEY: Before I take a stand on a particular course of action, I want to get the input from the people who are there.

SHAPIRO: That hesitation distinguishes Romney from his Republican opponents. Ron Paul has always said Afghanistan is a mistake. Newt Gingrich recently joined that view, telling CBS's "Face the Nation" it's time for us to leave.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "FACE THE NATION")

NEWT GINGRICH: Our being in the middle of countries like Afghanistan is probably counterproductive.

SHAPIRO: Rick Santorum has said the U.S. needs to commit to winning or get out. But as the primary enters its last stages, the most important contrast may not be between Romney and other Republicans. It's between Romney and President Obama. Ari Shapiro, NPR News, Washington.

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