Panetta's pique reflects the frustration of his military commanders, who have seen more than 2,000 U.S. troops die in the 11-year war. And it can only fuel the grumbling by American lawmakers who are facing hotly contested elections next month, and are hearing from constituents wondering why the U.S. is pouring billions of dollars into a fight that Afghanistan's shaky and corruption-plagued government may no longer support.
One of the senior U.S. officials said that Karzai has made similar statements in the past, but noted they are still frustrated with Pakistan over the insurgent safe havens within its borders. Militants plan and wage attacks against coalition forces in Afghanistan, then retreat back across the border into Pakistan.
Support for the war has been ebbing across America and much of the world, triggering growing calls for a speedier troop withdrawal.
That prospect leaves commanders worried they won't have the forces they need to do the training and counterterrorism operations they believe necessary to continue the transition of security to the Afghan troops while also keeping the Taliban from resurging.
During meetings Tuesday, Rasmussen said the ministers are expected to endorse a new framework for the Afghan war after 2014, ending the combat focus and turning to a more expansive training and advisory role. As a result, NATO is working on a new name for the mission from the current International Security Assistance Force to something close to the International Training, Advisory and Assistance Mission in 2015.
That mission would also likely include continued counterterrorism efforts by the U.S.
Associated Press writer Slobodan Lekic contributed to this report.