Obama to announce major Afghanistan troop drawdown

12:11 PM, Feb 12, 2013   |    comments
President Obama listens as Afghan President Hamid Karzai speaks during their joint news conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington Jan. 11, 2013
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(CBS NEWS) -- Eager to end a war he didn't begin, President Obama announced in January plans to speed up the withdrawal of U.S. forces in Afghanistan. In Tuesday's State of the Union address, the president will announce a milestone in the timetable on that drawdown, a senior administration official said.

"President Obama 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," the official told CBS News. "Further reductions will continue through the end of 2014 as Afghans take full responsibility for their security."

Many questions remain about the ability of Afghans to maintain their own security against repeated attacks from al Qaeda, as well as numerous insurgent groups in both their own country and from Pakistan. The White House insists, however, that their timetable will work.

"Afghan forces continue to grow stronger, with 352,000 now in training or on duty," the administration official said. "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."

There are an estimated 100,000 international troops still in Afghanistan, with 66,000 of those being Americans. The U.S. and its partners have said they expect all those troops to leave the country by the end of 2014.

Leading the drawdown of international security forces is the recently promoted Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, who took command of the U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan on Sunday.

The outgoing commander, Marine Gen. John Allen, said he told Dunford that the end won't be pretty, adding: "Our victory here will never be marked by a parade or a point in time on a calendar when victory is declared."

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