Obama: U.S. accelerating Afghan military transition

4:21 PM, Jan 11, 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) -- After a series of bilateral meetings with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, President Obama today announced the acceleration of the U.S. military transition in Afghanistan, and said the U.S. military will play a support role in the nation by this spring.

Mr. Obama, in a joint press conference with Karzai this afternoon, said that swift progress on the part of both U.S. and Afghan forces had enabled both nations to not only meet previously-enumerated goals, but to "accelerate them somewhat."

"Today we agreed that as Afghan forces take the lead and as President Karzai announces the final phase of the transition, coalition forces will move to a support role this spring," Mr. Obama told reporters. "Our troops will continue to fight alongside Afghans when needed, but let me say it as plainly as I can: Starting this spring our troops will have a different mission -- training, advising, assisting Afghan forces. It will be an historic moment and another step for full Afghan sovereignty."

As the United States prepares for the official drawdown at the end of 2014, there has been much speculation as to the size and scope of the U.S. presence there going forward. Mr. Obama said today that while he and Karzai discussed their mutual goals for post-2014, he doesn't yet know how how many U.S. troops -- if any -- will be required in meeting those goals. He did say that any troop presence would have to be at the "invitation" of the Afghan government, and that he would demand immunity for those troops.

"With regard to post-2014, we've got two goals -- and our main conversation today was establishing a meeting of the minds in terms of what those goals would be," Mr. Obama said. He described those goals, which include training, assisting and advising Afghan forces, and "making sure that we can continue to go after the remnants of al Qaeda or other affiliates that might threaten our homeland," as "a very limited mission."

"It is not one that would require the same kind of footprint, obviously, that we've had over the last 10 years in Afghanistan."

Even as the administration continues preparations for winding down the 10-year war, Mr. Obama reflected today on the nation's extended presence in Afghanistan, acknowledging that while America's loftiest goals there had "probably not" been met, the military has "come very close to achieving" its central goal of dismantling al Qaeda.

"We went into Afghanistan because 3,000 Americans were viciously murdered by a terrorist organization that was operating openly and at the invitation of those who were then ruling Afghanistan," Mr. Obama told reporters. "Because of the heroic work of our men and women in uniform, and because of the cooperation and sacrifices of Afghans who had also been brutalized by that then-host government, we achieved our central goal, which is -- or have come very close to achieving our central goal -- which is to de-capacitate al Qaeda, to dismantle them, to make sure that they can't attack us again."

"It was absolutely the right thing to do," Mr. Obama added, of the decision to go after al Qaeda. 

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