President Barack Obama Friday announced that U.S. Troops will pull back from combat operations and patrols in Afghanistan in advance of the planned withdrawal in 2014.
Obama, who made the announcement in a joint press conference with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, said the shift would come this spring, when U.S. and allied forces will transition to an "advisor-support" role, backing up Afghan troops.
"We meet at a critical moment," Obama said. "The transition is well under way, and soon nearly 90 percent of Afghans will live in areas where Afghan forces are in the lead for their own security."
He added, "This year will mark another milestone: Afghan forces will take the lead for security across the entire country."
Obama said that because of the sacrifices of American and allied troops and diplomats, as well as the Afghan people, the alliance has been able to deal devastating blows against al Qaeda, putting the ultimate goals of the war within reach.
"Today, most major cities and most Afghans are more secure and insurgents have continued to lose territory," Obama said. "Meanwhile, Afghan forces continue to grow stronger."
He added, "We still face significant challenges, but because of this progress our transition is on track."
Obama noted that U.S. and allied troops will continue to fight alongside Afghans if they are needed.
"Starting this spring, our troops will have a different mission: training, advising, assisting Afghan forces," he said. "It will be a historic moment and another step toward full Afghan sovereignty."
The changing role, Obama said, will allow the U.S. to bring home more troops - now down to a level of 66,000.
Karzai said that he was pleased with the agreement on the changing role of foreign troops in his country and noted that the peace process would continue, including allowing the creation of a Taliban representative in the Middle Eastern state of Qatar to facilitate reconciliation talks.
"We will be trying out best with the United States and our other allies to return peace and stability to Afghanistan as soon as possible," Karzai said. "The President and I also addressed the economic transition in Afghanistan and all that entails for Afghanistan."
Karzai also spoke of the hope for a free and fair election coming up for the Afghan people, with the assistance of the international community and United States.
He said he looks forward to "Afghanistan have[ing] the right environment for elections without interference and without undue concern in that regard for the Afghan people."
Karzai added, "I'll be going back to Afghanistan this evening to bring to the Afghan people the news of Afghanistan standing shoulder to shoulder with America as a sovereign, independent country, but in cooperation and in partnership."
Both Obama and Karzai stressed that the particular numbers of U.S. troops that would remain in Afghanistan was an issue for further discussion.
"Numbers are not going to make a difference to the situation in Afghanistan," Karzai said. "It's the broader relationship that will make a difference to Afghanistan and, beyond, in the region."
by RTT Staff Writer
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