By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jan. 11, 2013 – Afghan forces will take the lead for security throughout Afghanistan this spring rather than at mid-year, President Barack Obama announced at a White House news conference today.
Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai spoke following White House meetings.
The Afghan president emphasized that the number of American forces that will remain in Afghanistan after the NATO mission concludes at the end of 2014 is not crucial.
“Numbers are not going to make a difference to the situation in Afghanistan,” Karzai said. “It’s the broader relationship that will make a difference to Afghanistan and beyond in the region. The specifics of numbers are issues that the military will decide and Afghanistan will have no particular concern when we are talking of numbers and how they are deployed.”
Afghan forces will be in the lead sooner than planned, Obama said. U.S. and NATO forces have been training Afghan police and soldiers, who have progressed to the point where they are able to take the lead, Obama said. “We are able to meet those goals and accelerate them somewhat,” he said. “What's going to happen this spring is that Afghans will be in the lead throughout the country.”
U.S. forces will still be in the fight, the president said. “It does mean, though, that Afghans will have taken the lead and our presence, the nature of our work, will be different,” he said. “We will be in a training, assisting, advising role.”
This will lead to a responsible end to the war in Afghanistan by the end of 2014, the president said. “This progress is only possible because of the incredible sacrifices of our troops and our diplomats, the forces of our many coalition partners, and the Afghan people, who’ve endured extraordinary hardship,” he added.
Obama noted that more than 2,000 Americans have been killed in Afghanistan since the war began in 2001, and tens of thousands have been wounded. “These are patriots that we honor today, tomorrow, and forever,” he said.
The president promised that the number of U.S. service members in Afghanistan will continue to drop over the next year. Some 66,000 Americans are deployed to the nation now. “I’ve pledged we’ll continue to bring our forces home at a steady pace,” he said. “And in the coming months, I’ll announce the next phase of our drawdown, a responsible drawdown that protects the gains our troops have made.”
Karzai and Obama discussed the still to be worked out bilateral security agreement between the two nations. Part of this is a status of forces agreement, which will protect American service members. Both said they think an agreement is possible this year.