U.S. withdrawing 34,000 troops from Afghanistan within a year
By Phil Stewart and Tabassum Zakaria
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama announced on Tuesday that 34,000 troops - about half the U.S. force in Afghanistan - will withdraw by early 2014, bringing the United States one step closer to wrapping up the costly, unpopular war.
Obama announced the withdrawal in his annual State of the Union address, as he renewed his pledge to a war-weary American public that the 66,000 remaining U.S. troops in Afghanistan would move into a support role this spring.
"This drawdown will continue. And by the end of next year, our war in Afghanistan will be over," Obama said to applause.
The announcement was limited in detail and appeared to give the White House time and flexibility before it answers bigger questions about its exit strategy from America's longest war.
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.
No decisions on broader issues have been made, a senior administration official said, and Obama said only that the future U.S. mission would be focused on training and equipping Afghan forces and combating al Qaeda.
"Beyond 2014, America's commitment to a unified and sovereign Afghanistan will endure, but the nature of our commitment will change," Obama said. Continued...