The war in Afghanistan will be a challenge for whoever the next US president is. Both candidates have promised to bring combat troops home by the end of 2014, but as Al Jazeera's Bernard Smith reports from Helmand province, the country faces continuing insecurity.
Helmand's governor has told Al Jazeera he believes foreign combat troops are trying to pull out too soon.
His remarks came as Mario Monti, the Italian prime minister, made an unannounced visit to the western province of Herat to see his country's troops and hold talks with President Hamid Karzai.
Monti visited the NATO-led Italian contingent at their base there on Sunday to mark Italian armed forces day before heading to Kabul to meet Karzai.
"They are doing a really great job, transferring the responsibilty of the region to the authorities, national and local," he said.
"We are very proud of our 3,500 men spending a part of their lives in the interest of global peace and in the interest of civic and economic development of a peaceful Afghanistan."
Fifty-two Italian soldiers have so far died in the 11-year conflict against Taliban fighters, according to an AFP news agency count.
In another Afghanistan-related development, a US soldiers is due to appear in a military courtroom in Washington state for the first time on charges that he slaughtered 16 Afghan villagers during a pre-dawn rampage last March.
Staff-Sergeant Robert Bales is scheduled to face a preliminary hearing at Joint Base Lewis-McChord south of Seattle that could last as long as two weeks.
Military prosecutors are expected to show video from a surveillance blimp that depicts Bales returning to his remote outpost in Kandahar province after the killings.
Part of the hearing will be held at night to allow video testimony from witnesses in Afghanistan.
The hearing will help determine whether the 39-year-old father of two faces a court martial. He could get the death penalty.
The massacre left 16 people, including nine children, dead.