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Obama's Plan for Troop Cuts in Afghanistan

President Obama with VOA's Andre de Nesnera in the Map Room of the White House
President Obama with VOA's Andre de Nesnera in the Map Room of the White House

This is IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English.

President Obama says there is enough progress in Afghanistan to remove about one-third of American troops by September of next year. Mr. Obama announced his plan Wednesday night. Earlier that day he spoke to VOA.

BARACK OBAMA: "Keep in mind we're talking about ten thousand troops by the end of this year, an additional twenty-three thousand by the end of next summer. And we'll still have sixty-eight thousand US troops there, in addition to all the coalition partner troops. So there is still going to be a substantial presence. But what it does signal is, is that Afghans are slowly taking more and more responsibility."

The plan will bring home all of the extra troops he ordered sent to Afghanistan eighteen months ago. They will start leaving in July. And Mr. Obama says American troops will continue coming home as Afghan security forces move into the lead.

He calls this a phased transition process in a mission that will change from combat to support. This process will be complete by twenty-fourteen, he says, and the Afghan people will be responsible for their own security.

Mr. Obama said peace in Afghanistan will require a political settlement which could include the Taliban.

BARACK OBAMA: "We will encourage the Afghans, and we ourselves will talk to anybody. But they are going to have to break ties with al-Qaida, they are going to have to pledge to abide by the Afghan constitution and they will have to cease violence as a means of bringing about political power."

On the subject of Pakistan, Mr. Obama said he thinks America's relationship "has become more honest over time."

BARACK OBAMA: "And that raises some differences that are real. Obviously, the operation to take out Osama bin Laden created additional tensions, but I had always been very clear to Pakistan that if we ever found him and had a shot, that we would take it."

American special forces killed the al-Qaida leader in May in a secret raid on the house in Pakistan where he lived for years. President Obama said Pakistan not only has a responsibility, but also a deep interest in dealing with terrorist elements still in its territory.

BARACK OBAMA: "But overall, Pakistan has cooperated with us in our intelligence-collection efforts, in striking at high-value targets within Pakistan. We think that no country has suffered more from terrorist attacks than Pakistan."

In his speech this week, Mr. Obama said the removal of troops will start "from a position of strength." He said al-Qaida is under more pressure than at any time since the attacks on the United States on September eleventh, two thousand one.

BARACK OBAMA: "The goal that we seek is achievable, and can be expressed simply: No safe haven from which al-Qaida or its affiliates can launch attacks against our homeland or our allies. We won't 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."

The president said that after ten years of war, America must now invest in its own people.

BARACK OBAMA: "America, it is time to focus on nation-building here at home."

Some members of Congress want a faster troop withdrawal. Others say a quick withdrawal could threaten progress. A similar debate is said to be taking place among the president’s top advisers.

The latest Pew opinion survey of Americans found for the first time that a majority say troops should be brought home as soon as possible.

And that's IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English. You can watch the president's speech and his interview with VOA's Andre de Nesnera at I'm Steve Ember.


Contributing: Andre de Nesnera, Kent Klein and Dan Robinson