Obama: US to speed up Afghan troop transition
WASHINGTON (AFP) – President Barack Obama on Friday said NATO troops would speed up a transfer of lead security responsibility to Afghan forces this spring, in a sign the pace of US troop withdrawals could quicken.
After meeting Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Obama said NATO forces would have a “very limited” role in the country after 2014 and insisted that Washington had achieved its prime goal of “decapitating” Al-Qaeda.
The leaders met at a crucial moment in the final chapter of a long, bloody war, and as Obama balances the future security of Afghanistan with US combat fatigue and a desire to spend America’s dwindling resources at home.
“Starting this spring, our troops will have a different mission – training, advising, assisting Afghan forces. It will be a historic moment and another step toward full Afghan sovereignty,” Obama told a joint news conference.
“Because of the progress that has been made in terms of Afghan security forces, their capacity to take the lead, we are able to meet (transition) goals and accelerate them somewhat,” Obama said.
NATO plans had previously called for foreign forces to transfer the lead in fighting the Taleban by the middle of the this year. Obama was careful to stress, however, that US troops will still fight alongside Afghans.
Karzai added that from the spring, “the Afghan forces will be fully responsible for providing security and protection to the Afghan people.”
“International forces, the American forces, will be no longer present in the villages … it will be the task of the Afghan forces to provide for the Afghan people in security and protection.”
Obama, planning the withdrawal of most of the 66,000 US troops left in Afghanistan, said that after 2014, American forces would have a “very limited” mission in training Afghan forces and preventing a return of Al-Qaeda.
But he warned that Karzai, with whom he has had a somewhat testy relationship, would have to accept a security agreement, still under discussion, granting legal immunity to US troops who remain behind.