President Barack Obama plans to withdraw one-third of U.S. forces from Afghanistan by late 2012. The president said Wednesday the recent increase in troop strength is meeting its goals.
President Obama told a nationwide television audience he is beginning the effort to wind down one of America’s longest wars. “America, it is time to focus on nation-building here at home," he said.
Mr. Obama said the 100,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan have caused extensive damage to the al-Qaida terror network, which conducted deadly attacks on New York and Washington in 2001.
VOA News Analysts Comment on President Obama's Afghan Speech
Because of the recent gains, the president announced that one-third of those troops will leave Afghanistan by late next year. “Starting next month, we will be able to remove 10,000 of our troops from Afghanistan by the end of this year, and we will bring home a total of 33,000 troops by next summer," he said.
Mr. Obama sent those 33,000 troops to Afghanistan late in 2009, to focus on al-Qaida, reverse the Taliban’s momentum and train Afghan security forces to defend their own country.
U.S. forces invaded Afghanistan weeks after the 9-11 attacks in 2001. Recent public opinion polls show that many Americans are tired of the war, and want the Obama administration to focus instead on domestic concerns, such as the economy.
Some members of Congress have been calling for an accelerated withdrawal. But others contend that a quick pullout would compromise the progress that has been made in Afghanistan. A similar debate is said to be taking place among the president’s top advisers.
Mr. Obama acknowledged the question Wednesday, saying U.S. policy must strike an appropriate balance. “Some would have America retreat from our responsibility as an anchor of global security, and embrace an isolation that ignores the very real threats that we face. Others would have America over-extended, confronting every evil that can be found abroad. We must chart a more centered course," he said.
From combat to support
The president said the U.S. mission in Afghanistan will change from combat to support, as Afghans assume responsibility for their nation’s security. Mr. Obama said that transition will be complete by 2014.
He also announced that NATO will hold a summit in his home city of Chicago next May, to plan the next phase of Afghanistan’s transition.
In the meantime, Mr. Obama said the U.S. will support peace talks that include the Afghan government and the Taliban, and that there is reason to believe that progress can be made.
In addition, he said his administration will press Pakistan for greater cooperation in the fight against violent extemists.
Mr. Obama said his overall goal is to leave Afghanistan without a safe haven from which al-Qaida or its affiliates can attack the U.S. or its allies. “We will not try to make Afghanistan a perfect place. We will not police its streets or patrol its mountains indefinitely," he said.
The president promised the American people that the long wars in Afghanistan and Iraq would come to what he called a responsible end.
Watch the full speech: