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Feb 12, 2013 Comments Off Pat Dollard

Excerpted from Politico: President Barack Obama is expected to announce Tuesday night that he’ll withdraw 34,000 more troops from Afghanistan over the coming year, the latest big move in his plan to transfer responsibility for the war to Afghanistan’s homegrown soldiers and police.

Obama will outline that goal in his State of the Union address, according to an official with knowledge of the speech. The number represents about half the troops serving in Afghanistan today, and it continues the administration’s push toward handing the Afghan National Security Forces primary responsibility for maintaining security and pursuing insurgents, even though the ANSF’s abilities lag far behind its U.S. and international patrons.

Nonetheless, the White House campaigned last year on bringing home American troops home by 2014 — although a force of some size will likely have to remain in Afghanistan after the transfer of responsibility — and Obama said last month that the ANSF would take “the lead” in operations this spring. That means that the American forces who remain in Afghanistan will continue their withdrawals as Afghan troops are expected to take the patrols and other assignments that once were the province of the U.S.-led International Security Assistance Force.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Tuesday in a farewell speech at the Pentagon that he thought the U.S. was pursuing the right strategy.

“We are on the right track in Afghanistan,” he said.

Pentagon and White House officials are said to be debating post-2014 troop levels among themselves, but have not yet made a final recommendation to Obama for the size or composition of a lingering American force. Reports have sized that potential footprint as high as 20,000 troops, and White House officials have not ruled out leaving behind none — especially if the Afghan government cannot agree to grant U.S. forces legal immunity under a future status of forces agreement.

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