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Afghanistan Welcomes Obama Plan for Drawdown

The Afghan government has welcomed U.S. President Barack Obama's announcement that the United States will withdraw 34,000 troops from Afghanistan over the next year.

Mr. Obama made the promise Tuesday in his annual State of the Union address. He said about half of the U.S. forces currently serving in Afghanistan -- roughly 34,000 -- will be home within a year.

The office of Afghan President Hamid Karzai said Wednesday that Mr. Obama's announcement is "something Afghanistan has wanted for so long now."

It added that "the withdrawal in spring of foreign forces from Afghan villages will definitely help in ensuring peace and full security in Afghanistan."

Last month, Mr. Obama and Mr. Karzai agreed that security responsibilities will be transferred from the U.S.-led coalition to Afghan security forces this spring rather than in late summer, as originally planned.

Meanwhile, local officials in Afghanistan's Kunar province said a coalition airstrike Tuesday night killed 10 civilians, including five children and four women. Four insurgents, including at least one commander, were killed in the strike, which took place in the Shigal district near the border with Pakistan.

Mr. Karzai's office said in a statement that the Afghan president "strongly condemns" the NATO airstrike.

A spokesman for NATO's International Security Assistance Force said it was investigating the incident and takes "every allegation of civilian casualties very seriously."

Afghan defense ministry spokesman Mohammad Zahir Azimi told reporters Wednesday that Afghanistan is ready to fill the vacuum left by U.S. troops and other NATO forces. A full transfer of security control from NATO to Afghan forces is scheduled for 2014.

But a spokesman for the Taliban, Zabihullah Mujahid, said the only acceptable path was for all foreign troops to leave Afghanistan immediately.

Critics of the drawdown have expressed fears that the departure of NATO troops will destabilize the country.

At its peak in the decade-long war, the United States had about 100,000 troops in Afghanistan.

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