U.S. withdrawing 34,000 troops from Afghanistan within a year
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama will announce in his State of the Union address on Tuesday that 34,000 troops - about half the U.S. force in Afghanistan - will withdraw by early 2014, a senior administration official said.
The decision brings the United States one step closer to wrapping up the unpopular and costly 11-year-old war but also appeared to give the White House time and flexibility before it answers bigger questions about America's exit strategy.
This includes the size of the U.S. force that Obama will keep in Afghanistan once the NATO mission is completed and the war is declared formally over at the end of 2014.
Obama also must decide how large an Afghan force to finance, and for how long, as his allies in Congress press to keep them at their maximum strength.
The Obama administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said no further details would be provided however in this evening's address, due to begin at 9 p.m. EST.
"The president will not be making any further announcements about troop numbers tonight, nor has he made any decisions beyond the one he is announcing," the official said.
The official promised further U.S. troop reductions through the end of 2014 "as Afghans take full responsibility for their security."
The announcement comes a month after Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai agreed in Washington on a plan to slightly speed up the handover of combat operations in Afghanistan, with Afghan forces taking the lead role throughout the country this spring.
How the Afghan forces fare in this leading role has yet to be seen. Although U.S. military officials express confidence in growing Afghan capabilities, Afghan forces remain highly dependent on U.S. support. Continued...