WASHINGTON, June 22 (Xinhua) — U.S. President Barack Obama on Wednesday night laid out his plans for Afghanistan troops drawdown that is set to begin next Month, ordering 10,000 troops from that country by year-end with a total of 33,000 troops to be out by next summer.
The plans would withdraw all the “surge troops” he sent to Afghanistan in late 2009 to strengthen the fight against the Talibans.
In a prime time White House speech, Obama said he ordered the drawdown in “a position of strength,” noting the United States is “meeting our goals” which include “refocus on al-Qaida; reverse the Taliban’s momentum; and train Afghan Security Forces to defend their own country.”
After the initial reduction, the U.S. troops will continue coming home at a steady pace as Afghan Security forces move into the lead, said Obama, as the U.S. mission will change from combat to support.
After the withdrawal of 33,000 troops, some 70,000 U.S. troops will still remain in Afghanistan, who will withdraw at a steady pace.
Obama said that by 2014, the process of transition will be complete, and the Afghan people will be responsible for their own security.
He also said al-Qaida is under “more pressure than at any time since 9/11,” as more than half of the terror network’s leadership were taken out, including terror mastermind Osama bin Laden in a U.S. special forces operation in Pakistan last month.
“The information that we recovered from bin Laden’s compound shows al-Qaida under enormous strain,” said Obama.
A senior administration official who spoke on condition of anonymity said before making the speech, Obama called important allies including Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, British Prime Minister David Cameron, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen.
“The president updated them on our efforts,” said the official. “They appreciated the calls and all of them agreed that it’s important for the coalition to remain closely coordinated going forward.”
In his speech, Obama also announced the U.S. is to host a summit with its NATO allies and partners next May in Chicago to “shape the next phase” of the transition in Afghanistan.
Obama noted that huge challenges remain in Afghanistan. “This is the beginning — but not the end — of our effort to wind down this war,” he said. “We will have to do the hard work of keeping the gains that we have made,” while “al-Qaida remains dangerous, and we must be vigilant against attacks.”
In order to hold on to the gains, Obama said the U.S. side does “know that peace cannot come to a land that has known so much war without a political settlement,” noting the country will join initiatives of reconciliation that includes the Taliban.
He said the process must be led by the Afghan government, and those who want to be a part of the process must break from al-Qaida, abandon violence, and abide by the Afghan Constitution.
Obama said the U.S. will address “terrorist safe-havens in Pakistan,” and “we will continue to press Pakistan to expand its participation in securing a more peaceful future for this war-torn region. We will work with the Pakistani government to root out the cancer of violent extremism, and we will insist that it keep its commitments.”
While saying the U.S. is making progress on the military front in Afghanistan, Obama also admitted Washington will not be responsible for future nation building efforts in Afghanistan.
“We will not try to make Afghanistan a perfect place. We will not police its streets or patrol its mountains indefinitely,” he said. “That is the responsibility of the Afghan government, which must step up its ability to protect its people; and move from an economy shaped by war to one that can sustain a lasting peace.”
He stressed the goal the U.S. is seeking is “achievable”, simply stated, it means “no safe-haven from which al-Qaida or its affiliates can launch attacks against U.S. homeland, or its allies.”
“It is time to focus on nation building here at home,” said Obama, who is facing mounting pressure from the Republicans on federal deficit and debt.