LAS VEGAS -- Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney on Wednesday night blasted President Obama and his administration for “putting in jeopardy” the nation’s military mission by signaling it hopes to end its combat mission in Afghanistan by the middle of 2013.

Appearing at a campaign rally here shortly after landing in Nevada, Romney said Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta’s statement Wednesday that U.S. forces would transition from a combat mission in Afghanistan next year “makes absolutely no sense.”

“He announced that so the Taliban hears it, the Pakistanis hear it, the Afghan leaders hear it,” Romney said. “Why in the world do you go to the people that you’re fighting with and tell them the day you’re pulling out your troops? It makes absolutely no sense. [Obama’s] naivete is putting in jeopardy the mission of the United States of America and our commitments to freedom. He is wrong. We need new leadership in Washington.”

The former Massachusetts governor generally agrees with the United States’ and NATO coalition’s longstanding goal of withdrawing combat troops from Afghanistan in 2014. But Romney has disagreed with Obama’s announcements of specific timetables and has accused him and his administration of making decisions based on politics and not on the assessments of commanders on the ground.

Although Obama plans to withdraw by September all 33,000 “surge” forces he sent to Afghanistan in 2010, the president has made no announcement on how quickly the remaining 68,000 will come home. NATO has agreed that all combat forces will leave Afghanistan by 2014.

This story has been updated.