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    We have a clear objective in Afghanistan: Hagel

    WASHINGTON (PAN): The United States has a clear and achievable objective in Afghanistan as the country prepares to withdraw its troops by the end of 2014, incoming Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said on Wednesday.
    “In Afghanistan, where 66,000 of our troops remain in a tough fight, we have a clear and achievable objective to fully transition security responsibility to the Afghan National Security Forces by the end of 2014,” Hagel said.
    In a message to US forces and employees of the Department of Defense, he said: “As you know, Afghan forces will step into the lead for security operations across the country this spring, and over the next year another 34,000 of our troops will come home,” he said.
    Sworn in as defense secretary earlier in the day, he said: “This is a defining time for the US military and for our nation. We are emerging from more than a decade of war, yet the threats facing us are no less dangerous or complicated,” he said.
    In his first public appearance as the top American military leader, Hagel said: “Despite challenges, I believe an historic opportunity exists to help build a safer, more prosperous, and more secure world.”
    But for achieving that goal, he stressed, Washington must ensure that it was ready, trained and equipped to fulfill its role of protecting itself and standing firm against aggression.
    “To that end, the strength, well-being and readiness of ourall-volunteer force will be my top priority. This will require 21st century agility and flexibility,” Hagel said.