United States President Barack Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai Friday agreed to speed up plans for moving Afghan forces into the security lead, while shifting American troops into a support role.
"Next year, this long war will come to a responsible end," Obama said addressing a joint press conference at the White House with the visiting Afghan President, Hamid Karzai.
He however, said that no decision has been taken on the pace of drawdown of the rest of the some 66,000 troops and the number of American troops that need to be present in the country after 2014.
He is waiting for specific recommendations from his commanders on the ground, the president said.
"Today we agreed that, as Afghan forces take the lead and as President Karzai announces the final phase of the transition, coalition forces will move to a support role this spring," Obama said.
"Our troops will continue to fight alongside Afghans when needed, but let me say it as plainly as I can. Starting this spring, our troops will have a different mission: training, advising, assisting Afghan forces.
"It will be a historic moment and another step toward full Afghan sovereignty, something I know that President Karzai cares deeply about, as do the Afghan people," Obama said.
This sets the stage for the further reduction of coalition forces.
"We've already reduced our presence in Afghanistan to roughly 66,000 US troops. I've pledged we'll continue to bring our forces home at a steady pace. And in the coming months, I'll announce the next phase of our drawdown, a responsible drawdown that protects the gains our troops have made," he said.
"With the devastating blows we've struck against Al Qaeda, our core objective, the reason we went to war in the first place is now within reach: ensuring that Al Qaeda can never again use Afghanistan to launch attacks against our country," said the US president.
Referring to his meeting with the Afghan president, Obama said the two leaders also discussed the nature of security cooperation after 2014.
"Our teams continue to work toward a security agreement, and as they do, they will be guided by our respect for Afghan sovereignty and by our two long-term tasks, which will be very specific and very narrow: first, training and assisting Afghan forces; and, second, targeted counterterrorism missions against Al Qaeda and its affiliates."
"Our discussions will focus on how best to achieve these two tasks after 2014, and it's our hope that we can reach an agreement this year," he said.
"Make no mistake: Our path is clear, and we are moving forward. Every day more Afghans are stepping up and taking responsibility for their own security. And as they do, our troops will come home. And next year this long war will come to a responsible end," Obama said.
Image: US President Obama listens to Afghan President Karzai during joint news conference at the White House in Washington on Friday
Photograph: Jason Reed/Reuters