Obama orders faster withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan

Washington: Declaring that US had largely achieved its goals in Afghanistan, President Barack Obama on Thursday ordered withdrawal of his troops from there starting this year, with 30,000 leaving initially, a process that would continue until the Afghans take over the security in 2014.

The withdrawals will see a first group of 10,000 American soldiers brought home from Afghanistan this year and another 23,000 by the end of September 2012, two months before voters decide whether to give Obama a second term.

In a prime-time address to the nation from the White House, Obama said that America was starting the drawdown from a position of strength, asserting that al-Qaeda was under "more pressure" than at any time since 9/11.

"Together with the Pakistanis, we have taken out more than half of al-Qaeda`s leadership. And thanks to our intelligence professionals and Special Forces, we killed Osama bin Laden, the only leader that al-Qaeda had ever known," he said in his 13-minute address that sounded like a campaign speech.

"This the beginning — but not the end — of our effort to wind down this war. We will have to do the hard work of keeping the gains that we have made, while we drawdown our forces and transition responsibility for security to the Afghan government," he said.

"By 2014, this process of transition will be complete, and the Afghan people will be responsible for their own security."

He said after the initial reduction, American troops will continue coming home at a steady pace as Afghan security forces move into the lead.

"Our mission will change from combat to support. By 2014, this process of transition will be complete, and the Afghan people will be responsible for their own security," Obama said.

He had sent 30,000 surge troops to Afghanistan in December 2009 plus 3,000 support soldiers in a bid to reverse the Taliban`s momentum in the country. Nevertheless, about 68,000 US troops will remain in Afghanistan.

Obama said nearly ten years ago, America suffered the "worst attack" on its shores since Pearl Harbour.

"This mass murder was planned by Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda network in Afghanistan, and signaled a new threat to our security -? one in which the targets were no longer soldiers on a battlefield, but innocent men, women and children going about their daily lives," he said.

"In the days that followed, our nation was united as we struck at al-Qaeda and routed the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Then, our focus shifted. A second war was launched in Iraq, and we spent enormous blood and treasure to support a new government there. By the time I took office, the war in Afghanistan had entered its seventh year," he added.

Obama said al-Qaeda`s leaders had escaped into Pakistan and were plotting new attacks, while the Taliban had regrouped and gone on the offensive.

He said that America`s efforts must also address terrorist safe-havens in Pakistan.

"For there should be no doubt that so long as I am President, the United States will never tolerate a safe-haven for those who aim to kill us: they cannot elude us, nor escape the justice they deserve," he added.

"We will work with the Pakistani government to root out the cancer of violent extremism, and we will insist that it keep its commitments," he said.