President Barack Obama on Tuesday renewed his vow to start withdrawing US troops from Afghanistan in July even as he warned of “tough fighting ahead” in the nine-year-old war.
In his State of the Union address, Obama said American forces were leaving Iraq as planned while US-led troops in Afghanistan had rolled back Taliban insurgents.
“Thanks to our heroic troops and civilians, fewer Afghans are under the control of the insurgency. There will be tough fighting ahead, and the Afghan government will need to deliver better governance,” he said, according to an advance copy of the speech released by the White House.
“This year, we will work with nearly 50 countries to begin a transition to an Afghan lead (for security),” he said.
“And this July, we will begin to bring our troops home.”
Top officials have suggested the mid-2011 withdrawal date could only involve a small number of troops, with NATO leaders aiming to hand over security for to Afghan forces by the end of 2014.
On Iraq, Obama said the US military was wrapping up its mission as scheduled and that troops could leave “with their heads held high.”
US combat patrols had ended, violence was down and a new government had been formed, said Obama, who had strongly opposed the war before he entered the White House.
“This year, our civilians will forge a lasting partnership with the Iraqi people, while we finish the job of bringing our troops out of Iraq. America’s commitment has been kept; the Iraq War is coming to an end,” he said.
Citing the war in Afghanistan, Obama said the United States had “taken the fight to al Qaeda and their allies abroad.”
“Our purpose is clear — by preventing the Taliban from reestablishing a stranglehold over the Afghan people, we will deny al Qaeda the safe-haven that served as a launching pad for 9/11,” he said.
Obama’s speech focused mainly on the country’s economic challenges and only briefly touched on Afghanistan, where roughly 97,000 troops are deployed.
The US president ordered in 30,000 reinforcements in December 2009 to try to turn around the war against Taliban insurgents.