| GEO World|
Conditions will set pace of Afghan pullout: Obama
| Updated at: 0533 PST, Wednesday, September 01, 2010|
WASHINGTON: The pace of a US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan will be determined by the conditions on the ground, US President Barack Obama said Tuesday in a landmark address to the nation.
As Obama formally declared an end to the US combat mission in Iraq, he vowed American forces fighting a Taliban and Al-Qaeda insurgency in Afghanistan would begin "a transition to Afghan responsibility."
Amid growing unrest in Afghanistan, the US commander-in-chief reaffirmed US forces would begin handing over to Afghan forces next year, but appeared to temper an earlier pledge that a troop withdrawal would start in 2011.
"Next August we will begin a transition to Afghan responsibility," Obama said in his Oval Office address, although the prepared remarks released by the White House ahead of the speech initially referred to "next July."
He warned: "The pace of our troop reductions will be determined by conditions on the ground, and our support for Afghanistan will endure."
"But make no mistake: this transition will begin because open-ended war serves neither our interests nor the Afghan people's."
There are fewer than 50,000 troops in Iraq now, as Obama switches his focus to hunting down Al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
In a major speech in December unveiling a new fast-track war strategy, Obama announced he was pouring 30,000 more troops in Afghanistan, as he groped for an exit from a conflict seen by many as a Vietnam-style quagmire.
But Obama also told cadets at the West Point military academy that the American forces would start coming home from Afghanistan in July 2011.
"Within Afghanistan, I have ordered the deployment of additional troops who -- under the command of General David Petraeus -- are fighting to break the Taliban's momentum," Obama said Tuesday.
"As with the surge in Iraq, these forces will be in place for a limited time to provide space for the Afghans to build their capacity and secure their own future."
US troops will begin training and advising Afghan security forces with the aim of handing over responsibility for defense matters.
"But as was the case in Iraq, we cannot do for Afghans what they must ultimately do for themselves," Obama said.