Obama sees new chapter in strategic pact with Afghanistan
U.S. President Barack Obama has signed the strategic partnership agreement with his Afghan counterpart Hamid Karzai in Kabul, Obama said early Wednesday in his live speech from the Bagram airbase, 50 km north of Kabul, Xinhua reported.
The U.S. president, who paid a secret visit to Kabul late Tuesday night which coincided with the first anniversary of the killing of Osma bin Ladin, hailed the historic agreement saying that the pact defines a new U.S.-Afghan relationship and a new chapter begins.
Obama reaffirmed the exit strategy for U.S. troops in Afghanistan, saying that another 23,000 U.S. soldiers will go home by this summer, which will be followed by a "steady pace" to troop reduction.
He said the Afghans will be fully responsible for the security of their country by the end of 2014, as the Afghan forces have surged the recent years and will peak at 352,000 this year.
The NATO coalition at a summit in Chicago later this month will set a goal for the Afghan forces to be in the lead for combat operations across the country next year and the international troops will shift into a support role, Obama said.
Obama believed that the inked agreement will establish the basis of the U.S.-Afghan cooperation over the next decade, including shared commitments to combat terrorism and strengthen democratic institutions.
The president said the U.S. and Afghan governments are still pursuing a negotiation with the Taliban, saying that his administration has been in direct discussions with the Taliban.
According to a fact sheet provided by the White House, the Strategic Partnership Agreement "provides for the possibility of U. S. forces in Afghanistan after 2014, for the purposes of training Afghan Forces and targeting the remnants of al-Qaeda."
The White House said the Americans "do not seek permanent military bases in Afghanistan," but the agreement "commits Afghanistan to provide U.S. personnel access to and use of Afghan facilities through 2014 and beyond."
The 130,000-strong U.S.-led coalition forces, including 90,000 American troops, were originally scheduled to be pulled out of Afghanistan by the end of 2014.