Obama-Karzai: Springtime Handoff for Security, U.S. Draw-Down Follows

Photograph by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Afghan President Hamid Karzai (L) and U.S. President Barack Obama hold a joint news conference in the East Room of the White House Jan. 11, 2013 in Washington.

President Barack Obama, discussing the hand-off of security in Afghanistan to the government of Hamid Karzai and the draw-down of U.S. troops, was asked today of the “huge” cost of life involved in the war there is justified — in light of the situation that will remain.

“I want us to remember why we went to Afghanistan,” Obama replied. “We went to Afghanistan because 3,000 Americans were viciously murdered by an organization that was operating” with the support of the existing government there.

“We achieved our central goal — or have come very close to achieving our central goal, which is to decapaciate, or dismantle, al-Qaeda, to make sure they can’t attack us again,” he said. “At the end of this conflict, we are going to be able to say that the sacrifices made by those men and women in uniform have brought about the goal that we sought.’

The handoff of responsibility for the security of Afghanistan will come this Spring, Obama said today — with an announcement on the next phase of the draw-down of U.S. troops not “yet fully determined.”

“This Spring, Afghan forces will be in the lead throughout the country,” Obama said in a press conference with Karzai at the White House, “and the nature of our work will be different.”

“This year will mark another milestone — Afghan forces will take charge of security across the entire country,” Obama said during comments in the East Room, appearing there with Karzai after their private meeting. “This is a very different mission” for the U.S., he said, “a very different footprint.”

“Numbers are not going to make a difference,” Karzai said of the U.S. troop presence. It is, he said, “the broader relationship” of the U.S. and Afghanistan that matters most.

The “core objective” of the U.S. war in Afghanistan, Obama said — the undermining of al-Qaeda — “is now within reach.”

“Our transition is on track,” Obama said. “Coalition forces will move to a support role this Spring… Starting this Spring, our troops will have a different mission, training, advising, assisting Afghan forces.”

The U.S. troop presence has been scaled back to 66,000, he noted. In the coming months, he said, he will announce the next phase of the drawdown.

“Because of the progress that’s been made” in training and equipping Afghan forces for “their capacity to take the lead, we are able to meet those goals and accelerate them somewhat.”

In their private meeting, Obama and Karzai discussed“ the possibility of a post-2014 U.S. presence that is sustainable, that supports a capable and effective Afghan National Security Force, and that continues to pressure the remnants of al-Qaeda and its affiliates,” according to a joint statement of the two released by the White House. “The scope and nature of any possible post-2014 U.S. presence, legal protections for U.S. forces, and security cooperation between the two countries is to be specified in the Bilateral Security Agreement.”

The U.S. also reaffirmed that it does not seek permanent bases in Afghanistan, the two presidents said in thea joint statement.

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