WASHINGTON: US President Barack Obama said on Saturday that by the end of next year, America’s war in Afghanistan would be over. “After more than a decade of war, the nation we need to rebuild is our own,” said Mr Obama in his weekly radio address.
At a joint news conference with Afghan President Hamid Karzai at the White House on Friday, President Obama announced the acceleration of the US military transition in Afghanistan, and said the US military would play a supporting role in the nation by this spring.
On Saturday, he said he wanted to update his nation “on how we will end this war, bring our troops home, and continue the work of rebuilding America”.
Mr Obama said that during his first four-year tenure, which ends on Jan 20, the US military had dealt devastating blows to Al Qaeda and had pushed the Taliban out of their strongholds.
“And our core objective, the reason we went to war in the first place, is now within reach: ensuring that Al Qaeda can never again use Afghanistan to launch attacks against America,” he said.
President Obama noted that the 33,000 additional troops he had sent to Afghanistan during his first term had completed their mission and returned home last fall.
This week, when President Karzai visited Washington for a series of meetings with senior US leaders, the two sides agreed that this spring Afghan forces would take the lead for security across the entire country and US troops would shift to a support role.
“In the coming months, I’ll announce the next phase of our drawdown. And by the end of next year, America’s war in Afghanistan will be over,” said Mr Obama.
The US leader noted that more than a half million Americans, military personnel and civilians, had served in Afghanistan, “thousands have been wounded. More than 2,000 have given their lives”.
Mr Obama warned that Afghanistan remained a very difficult mission as the work ahead would not be easy and US forces deployed there were still in harm’s way. “But make no mistake, our path is clear, and we are moving forward” to rebuild the American nation, he said.
“We have to grow our economy and shrink our deficits. Create new jobs and boost family incomes. We have to fix our infrastructure and our immigration system. We have to protect our planet from the destructive effects of climate change, and protect our children from the horrors of gun violence,” said Mr Obama, making it clear that he wanted to shift his focus away from Afghanistan during his second term.
“These, too, will be difficult missions for America. But they must be met. And if we can summon just a fraction of the determination of our men and women in uniform, I know we can meet them. And I intend to work as hard as I know how to make sure we do,” he said.
At his news conference with President Karzai, Mr Obama promised to speed up a transfer of lead security responsibility from Nato to Afghan forces this spring. He said Nato forces would have a “very limited” role in the country after 2014 --- “training, advising and assisting Afghan forces”.
US commanders in Afghanistan are seeking 6,000 to 15,000 US troops after 2014 to continue pursuing armed groups and training Afghan security forces.
The White House, however, has suggested keeping between 3,000 and 9,000 troops in the country.