Obama says Afghanistan withdrawal on track for this year
US President Barack Obama said Tuesday tough fighting lies ahead in Afghanistan but reiterated his commitment to begin withdrawing American forces this year, dpa reported.
In his State of the Union address, Obama said the troop buildup he ordered has stripped the Taliban of strongholds in Afghanistan. He said the United States and coalition partners will work to prevent the militants from "re-establishing a stranglehold" on the country and will keep pressure on terrorist network al-Qaeda.
International forces will continue the transition to an Afghan lead in providing security and stability, and US forces will begin drawing down in July, Obama said. Prevailing in Afghanistan is among Obama's top foreign priorities.
"There will be tough fighting ahead, and the Afghan government will need to deliver better governance," Obama said. "But we are strengthening the capacity of the Afghan people and building an enduring partnership with them."
The Obama administration has planned a partial withdrawal this year. Decisions on future pullouts will be based on conditions on the ground, with 2014 set as the timeframe for completing the transition to Afghan security forces.
Obama's annual address before a joint session of Congress was largely devoted to domestic politics, the economy and job creation.
On the diplomatic front, the president touted the progress in Iraq and his intention to complete the US withdrawal this year.
"America's commitment has been kept - the Iraq war is coming to an end," he said.
Obama praised the completion of a new nuclear-arms reduction agreement with Russia that requires both sides to reduce their arsenals of strategic warheads by one-third from current levels. He said the diplomatic effort to curtail Iran's nuclear activities has produced "tougher sanctions, tighter sanctions than ever before."
The United States will maintain pressure on North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons programme, Obama said.