ISLAMABAD — Afghan President Hamid Karzai has praised the news that the U.S. combat mission in Afghanistan is coming to an end and that all U.S. forces will be out of the country in less than two years.
"Afghanistan welcomes the announcement by President Obama, who in his State of the Union address said that the U.S. would be pulling out another 34,000 troops over the next year from Afghanistan," Karzai's office said in a statement Wednesday.
"This is something Afghanistan has wanted for so long now," Karzai's office said, referring to Obama's statement that American forces would be moving into a support role while Afghan security forces take the lead. "The withdrawal in spring of foreign forces from Afghan villages will definitely help in ensuring peace and full security in Afghanistan."
The statement added that "we hope the bilateral relations and cooperation between the two countries could further expand."
The Afghan Ministry of Defense also expressed support for the U.S. decision.
"We welcome the U.S. troop's withdrawal. The Afghan security forces are to take over combat and operations control in 2013 and they are ready to take security of the country," MOD spokesman Gen. Zahir Azimi told TOLOnews.
Meanwhile, lawmakers in the Afghan capital Kabul, spoke out Wednesday, expressing concern that the timeframe is not enough for Afghan forces to stand on their own against militant attempts to destabilize the country.
Parliament member Shukria Barakzai addressed Kabul’s national assembly.
She said Afghanistan in two years will not be able to buy all the equipment that the Afghan army will need and they will not be able to pay the army’s salaries. She said Kabul cannot even pay its own civil service.
In an example of the country’s continued insecurity, a U.S. consulate vehicle was attacked near the airport in Afghanistan’s eastern city of Herat on Wednesday. Two Americans were wounded.
U.S. President Barack Obama said Tuesday if Afghanistan’s next president agrees to sign a Bilateral Security Agreement, or BSA, with Washington, up to 9,800 troops would stay on in the country after the international combat mission ends this year, and nearly all would leave by the end of 2016.
Current Afghan leader Hamid Karzai has refused to sign the deal.
Afghanistan’s second and final round of presidential elections between former minister Abdullah Abdullah and former World Bank official Ashraf Ghani are to be held June 14. Both have indicated that they are ready to sign the security agreement.
General Joseph Dunford, the top U.S/ commander in Afghanistan, reassured Kabul of continued U.S. support.
“The United States and coalition forces look forward to working together with Afghan forces to complete our mission here in Afghanistan, to provide for a stable, secure and unified Afghanistan, and to provide for critical and sustainable Afghan forces,” Dunford said.
Dunford said under the BSA, the relationship between the U.S. and Afghan militaries would continue after 2016.
Afghan lawmaker Molave Shahzada Shaheed welcomed President Obama’s decision.
“If you are hoping that foreign forces will protect us, and there will be economic and development and security if we live under their shadow, just look at what has happened in the past 13 years,” he said. “This is nothing but a dream. We should unite and take care of our own security.”
The reaction was measured in neighboring Pakistan, which shares a long and porous border with Afghanistan and has strong connections with the Afghan Taliban.
Syed Tariq Fatemi, the Pakistani prime minister's special assistant on foreign affairs, said a peaceful Afghanistan was crucial to Pakistan’s security. But he appeared non-committal as to how this should happen.
“We believe neither an abandonment of Afghanistan, nor a policy of interference in that country serves the purpose of any one of us," Fatemi said.
Currently there are just over 30,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, a third of the one-time high of 100,000 soldiers. Some 2,200 American personnel have died in the conflict since the war began in 2001 in reaction to the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States.
VOA's Afghan service contributed to this report