Wednesday night at the White House, President Barack Obama announced the phased withdrawal of 10,000 U.S. troops from Afghanistan by the end of this year, with a target of removing the rest of a 33,000 surge force by next year.
There are now some 100,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan fighting a war that is nearly 10 years old.
The president said it is time to bring some of them home. He cited the strengthened position of U.S. and NATO forces and momentum achieved against the Taliban.
At the same time, Obama said al-Qaida in Pakistan is under more pressure than at any time since the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, including the loss of its leader Osama bin Laden.
"Starting next month, we will be able to remove 10,000 of our troops from Afghanistan by the end of this year, and we will bring home a total of 33,000 troops by next summer, fully recovering the surge I announced at West Point. After this initial reduction, our troops will continue coming home at a steady pace as Afghan Security forces move into the lead," Obama explained.
Obama said Afghan forces have already assumed security responsibility in some areas.
He reiterated that the Taliban, now in talks with the government, must break ties with al-Qaida, abandon violence and abide by the Afghan Constitution.
Obama called the objective of an Afghanistan that is not an al-Qaida safe haven achievable, but he said the Afghan people must ultimately secure their own nation.
"We will not try to make Afghanistan a perfect place. We will not police its streets or patrol its mountains indefinitely. That is the responsibility of the Afghan government, which must step up its ability to protect its people; and move from an economy shaped by war to one that can sustain a lasting peace,” Obama said.
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen offered quick praise of the president's announcement and the efforts of U.S. and other NATO forces in Afghanistan.
"The tide is turning. The Taliban are under pressure. The Afghan security forces are getting stronger every day," said Rasmussen.
Here in Washington, reaction is mixed, with some lawmakers criticizing the president for withdrawing too many troops and others calling for a larger reduction of troops.
VOA Senior News Analyst Gary Thomas says Obama’s decision needed to achieve two main objectives.
"The president needed a troop drawdown that was not going to be seen as pulling the rug out from under President Karzai, but still enough military pressure on the Taliban that they will come to the table," Thomas said.
Obama addressed the rising sentiment in the United States against the Afghan war amid a difficult economic recovery. But he urged a middle ground between isolationist tendencies and over-extending abroad.
"We must chart a more centered course. Like generations before, we must embrace America’s singular role in the course of human events. But we must be as pragmatic as we are passionate; as strategic as we are resolute," stated Obama.
That resolve, the president said, will allow Afghan forces to take over full security of their country by 2014. The president said he will host a NATO summit in Chicago next May to discuss the road to that transfer.