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    Nature of post-2014 commitment to change: Obama

    WASHINGTON (PAN): Announcing the withdrawal of 34,000 US troops from Afghanistan in the next 12 months and a halt to the war by the end of 2014, President Barack Obama said on Tuesday the nature of American commitment to Afghanistan would change.

    “This spring, our forces will move into a support role, while Afghan security forces take the lead. Tonight, I can announce that over the next year, another 34,000 American troops will come home from Afghanistan. This drawdown will continue. And by the end of next year, our war in Afghanistan will be over,” he said.

    In his annual State of the Union Address, the president said beyond 2014, America’s commitment to a unified and sovereign Afghanistan would endure, but its nature would change.

    “We are negotiating an agreement with the Afghan government that focuses on two missions: training and equipping Afghan forces so that the country does not again slip into chaos, and counter-terrorism efforts that allow us to pursue the remnants of Al Qaeda,” he added.

    Saluting the troops and civilians, Obama said: “Because of them, we can say with confidence that America will complete its mission in Afghanistan, and achieve our objective of defeating the core of Al Qaeda. Already, we have brought home 33,000 of our brave servicemen and women.”

    Defense Secretary Panetta welcomed Obama’s decision as the right path to succeess in Afghanistan. “I believe the president¹s decision puts us on the right path to succeed in Afghanistan,” he said, exuding confidence ISAF Commander Gen. Dunford would have the required combat power to protect the forces and continue building up the capabilities of Afghan forces.

    “The United States, NATO and the Afghan government agreed in Lisbon in 2010 and affirmed in Chicago last year that Afghanistan will assume full responsibility for its security by the end of 2014. We are on track for that goal, and we will maintain a long-term commitment to Afghanistan including through the continued training and equipping of Afghan forces and counter-terrorism operations against al Qaeda and their affiliates,” Panetta said.

    A fact sheet from the White House said the US believed that Afghan-led peace and reconciliation was ultimately necessary to end violence and ensure lasting stability. The US would support initiatives that bring Afghans together with other Afghans to discuss the future of their country.

    “We have been clear that the outcomes of any peace and reconciliation process must be for the Taliban and other armed opposition groups to end violence, break ties with Al Qaeda, and accept Afghanistan's constitution, including its protections for the rights of all Afghan citizens,” it said.

    “As we move towards decisions about a long-term presence, we will continue to assess the situation on the ground in Afghanistan, assess the capabilities of the Afghan National Security Forces, and consult with our Afghan and international partners,” it said.