UNITED NATIONS - US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta on Thursday marked what he called “the last chapter” of a long and costly struggle to ensure that Afghanistan can govern itself, as the Obama administration deliberates the American military’s future in the war-torn country.Speaking in his Pentagon office with visiting Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Panetta reflected on what he called a decade of great sacrifice by Afghans as well as their coalition partners.The Afghan leader is scheduled to meet with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and will then join her for a working dinner.Karzai’s talks at the Pentagon and the State Department come one day ahead of a one-on-one meeting with US President Barack Obama. The two leaders are expected to discuss security issues, namely how many US troops might be stationed in Afghanistan after the majority pull out in 2014, and under what conditions.Current plans call for the United States to withdraw nearly all of its 68,000 troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2014.But that plan hinges on a number of conditions, including whether Afghan forces will be capable of taking over security at that time. It is also not clear what would be the role of the Americans who stay behind, if any do remain. While President Karzai has often criticised US actions in Afghanistan, he also has spoken about his desire for some US presence to remain.“This is a wonderful opportunity, and it comes after 10 years of war, of blood, of battle, the loss of many on both sides. But after a long and difficult path, we finally are, I believe, at the last chapter of establishing in Afghanistan a sovereign Afghanistan that can govern and secure itself for the future”, Panetta said.“When I travelled to Afghanistan last month, I had the opportunity to meet with all of our military key leaders there, and it was clear to me, from them and from the Afghans that I spoke with, that what we are doing together, what we are doing in partnership is indeed succeeding”, he added.Panetta noted that “ next year in Afghanistan will be a very important one as we continue to transition security responsibility to the Afghan forces, and this coming year we will complete that transition with tranche five”.“I also want to assure you, my friend, that the US and the Department of Defence are fully committed to helping the people of Afghanistan secure and govern your own country. We have sacrificed together. That has created a bond that will not be broken in the future”, he added. On his part, Karzai said that Afghanistan and the US “have come a long way in the past 11 years with sacrifice on both sides of your men and women in uniform and civilians and also of the Afghan security forces and the Afghan people”. Karzai assured Panetta that “with the help that you will be able to provide security to its people and to protect its borders so Afghanistan will not ever again be threatened by terrorists from across our borders”. “I am sure during this trip, Afghanistan and the United States will work out the modality for bilateral security limit that will ensure the interests of Afghanistan and also the interests of the United States”, he added.