ABOARD A U.S. MILITARY AIRCRAFT (AP) — Defense Secretary Leon Panetta says the U.S. and its NATO partners intend to end their combat role in Afghanistan next year, while keeping troops there in a support role through 2014.

He told reporters traveling with him to Brussels on Wednesday that this switch from combat to training and advising Afghan forces would take place in mid- to late-2013.

Panetta’s remarks represented the Obama administration’s most explicit portrayal yet of how the military mission in Afghanistan is expected to evolve.

Panetta said no decisions have been made on how many U.S. troops would be needed once the combat mission ends.

He was headed to Brussels for a NATO meeting to discuss this and other Afghanistan issues with U.S. partner nations.