U.S. President Barack Obama announced his plans to withdraw 10,000 troops from Afghanistan this year and bring home all 33,000 U.S. “surge” troops by next summer in a televised speech on Wednesday night.
The first U.S. soldiers would begin returning home next month, in line with the deadline set by Obama in December 2009, when he authorized the surge of U.S. troops to break the Taliban’s control in Afghanistan.
“After this initial reduction, our troops will continue coming home at a steady pace as Afghan Security forces move into the lead,” Obama said.
“Our mission will change from combat to support. By 2014, this process of transition will be complete, and the Afghan people will be responsible for their own security,” he said.
The United States had made significant progress on meeting its three goals for the surge: denying al-Qaeda a safe-haven, reversing the Taliban’s momentum and training the Afghan security forces to defend their own country, the president said.
Calling the surge “one of the most difficult decisions that I’ve made as president,” Obama said the drowndown will start “from a position of strength.”
“This is the beginning – but not the end – of our effort to wind down this war,” he said.
Under Obama’s plans, up to 5,000 troops would leave the war-ravaged country next month, and another 5,000 soldiers would return home by the end of the year, officials say.
This means that some 70,000 U.S. servicemen will stay in Afghanistan well into the summer of 2012.
Outgoing U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates endorsed Obama’s withdrawal plans.
“I support the president’s decision because it provides our commanders with enough resources, time and, perhaps most importantly, flexibility to bring the surge to a successful conclusion,” Gates said in a statement issued following Obama’s speech.
The United States is the largest contributor to the 48-nation International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), which currently has more than 130,000 troops in Afghanistan. The interntaional coalition has been fighting Taliban militants in Afghanistan since 2001, but attacks on foreign and Afghan troops, police, and civilians are still frequent.
In his speech, Obama stressed that the Unites Stats would continue its efforts aimed at eliminating Al Qaeda, which is currently “under more pressure than at any time since 9/11” due to the killing of its leader Osama bin Laden.
Bin Laden was killed in May in a raid by U.S. Navy SEALs on his compound in Pakistan some 50 kilometers from Islamabad.