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    34,000 US troops to exit Afghanistan in a year

    WASHINGTON (PAN): US President Barack Obama called his Afghan counterpart Hamid Karzai on Tuesday to inform him of his decision to withdraw some 34,000 of American 60,000 troops currently stationed in Afghanistan in the next one year, senior administration officials said.

    A formal announcement in this regard would be made by Obama in his State of the Union Address here on Tuesday night (early Wednesday morning Kabul time), one official said.

    “Tonight, in his State of the Union Address, President Obama will announce that 34,000 US troops will return home from Afghanistan by this time next year, decreasing by half the number of forces serving in Afghanistan,” he added.

    Further reductions would continue through the end of 2014 as Afghans took full responsibility for their security, the administration official said on condition of anonymity.

    “The president made his decision based on the recommendations of the military and his national security team, as well as consultations with President Karzai and our international coalition partners,” the source continued.

    Before making his announcement, Obama spoke on the phone with President Karzai, British Prime Minister David Cameron and German Chancellor Merkel.

    The official said that Obama would not be making any further announcements about troop numbers tonight, nor had he made any other decisions. “The US remains fully committed to a long-term strategic partnership with the Afghan government and people.

    “We remain in negotiations on a Bilateral Security Agreement with the Afghan government that would contemplate two narrow missions for the United States beyond 2014: targeting the remnants of Al Qaeda and training Afghan forces, the official said.

    “Afghan forces are leading nearly 90 percent of operations across the country, and by this spring, they’ll be assuming the lead across the entire country, with the US and ISAF stepping back to a training role,” he remarked.

    In that capacity, the US will no longer be leading combat operations, but will provide support to the Afghans through the crucial fighting seasons of 2013 and 2014. By the end of 2014, the US would bring the war in Afghanistan to a close, the official explained.

    At NATO summits in Lisbon and Chicago, the US and its partners laid out a transition plan that will lead to the Afghan government having full responsibility for security by the end of 2014, the official said.

    “We are implementing that plan in a way that strengthens Afghan capacity and respects Afghan sovereignty, while preserving the important gains that have been made in recent years,” he concluded.