WASHINGTON--President Barack Obama in his State of the Union speech Tuesday night will announce "that 34,000 U.S. troops will return home from Afghanistan by this time next year, decreasing by half the number of U.S. forces serving in Afghanistan. Further reductions will continue through the end of 2014 as Afghans take full responsibility for their security," a senior administration said Tuesday morning.
This keeps the U.S. and NATO on a timetable--much discussed at the NATO Summit in Chicago last year--to bring the Afghanistan war to an end by the close of 2014.
From the official: "Thanks to our brave men and women in uniform, our Afghan partners and ISAF partners from 49 countries, we have struck devastating blows against al Qaeda, and Afghan forces continue to grow stronger, with 352,000 now in training or on duty. 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 United States and ISAF stepped back to a train, advise and assist role. In that capacity, we will no longer be leading combat operations, but will provide support to the Afghans as they lead operations through the crucial fighting seasons of 2013 and 2014. By the end of 2014, we will responsibly bring our war in Afghanistan to a close.
"At the NATO Summits in Lisbon and Chicago, the United States and our partners laid out a transition plan that would lead to the Afghan Government having full responsibility for security by the end of 2014. 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. 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. Before making his announcement, President Obama spoke on the phone with President Karzai, Prime Minister Cameron and Chancellor Merkel to inform them of his decision."
Obama is not expected to release details tonight on the looming major issue of how many trips will remain in Afghanistan after 2014.