President Barack Obama began the steady retreat from Afghanistan Wednesday, saying in a televised speech the United States has largely achieved its goals and the withdrawal of troops will now begin.
In remarks prepared for delivery at 8 p.m. from the East Room of the White House, Obama announced plans to withdraw 10,000 troops from Afghanistan by the end of the year. The remaining 20,000 troops from the 2009 surge would leave by next summer.
When I announced the surge at West Point, we set clear objectives: to refocus on al-Qaeda; reverse the Taliban's momentum; and train Afghan Security Forces to defend their own country. I also made it clear that our commitment would not be open-ended, and that we would begin to drawdown our forces this July, Obama said. Tonight, I can tell you that we are fulfilling that commitment.
By 2014, the president said the process of transition will be complete, and the Afghan people will be responsible for their own security. And all 100,000 U.S. troops will be home.
Pointing to victories - al-Qaeda under increased pressures, more than half of al-Qaeda leadership taken out, including the death of its leader, Osama bin Laden - the president said the message was clear:
The message is we don't forget. You will be held accountable, no matter how long it takes, Obama said.
He went on, saying that the country that served as a launching pad for the Sept. 11 2001 attacks no longer represents a terrorist threat to the United States, and while huge challenges remain, This is the beginning - but not the end - of our effort to wind down this war.
While the timetable for withdrawal is more aggressive than the recommendations made by his top military commanders, Obama is choosing to accelerate the rate of withdrawal amid vocal Congressional pressure to end the conflict, which has lasted longer than any military engagement in U.S. history.
Senior administration officials said the president reached his final decision after reviewing substantial progress made toward three goals: deny al-Qaeda a safe haven in Afghanistan, reverse the Taliban's momentum and train Afghan forces.
Toward the end of his speech, Obama brought the focus back to the United States, saying: America, it is time to focus on nation-building here at home.