Signalling a virtual end to a 12 year old Afghan war, US President Barack Obama today promised to speed up handover of combat operations to Afghan forces, gave a go ahead for talks with Taliban and laid the groundwork with the Afghan president for a small troop presence in the country post 2014.
"By the end of next year, America's war in Afghanistan will be over," Obama announced in a radio address to the nation, after meeting with his Afghan counterpart Hamid Karzai.
The American president said NATO forces would have a "very limited" role in Afghanistan after 2014, raising prospects of an accelerated US withdrawal from the war-torn nation.
"Afghan forces will take the lead for security across the entire country, and our troops will shift to a support role," Obama said, outlining that in the coming months, he would announce the next phase of drawdown.
The meeting between Obama and Karzai, who have often been at odds in recent years, brought into sharp focus the American end game for its longest war.
Both the leaders also threw their support behind the Afghan reconciliation efforts with Taliban and endorsed the establishment of a Taliban political mission in Qatar, to keep the door open for inter-Afghan talks.
Referring to withdrawal of the most of the 60,000 US troops in Afghanistan, Obama said that after 2014, American forces would have a "very limited" mission in training Afghan forces and preventing a return of Al-Qaeda.
In an apparent reference to leaving a limited force post 2014, Obama said the Afghans would have to accept a security agreement, still under discussion, granting legal immunity to US troops who stay behind.
"It will not be possible for us to have any kind of US troop presence post 2014 without assurances that our men and women, who are operating there are (not) in some way subject to the jurisdiction of another country," the president said.
Karzai said that after 2014, American troops would remain in Afghanistan in limited numbers only at certain facilities, to continue its fight against Al-Qaeda and its affiliate terrorist organisations in the country.
The Afghan president announced progress on another testy issue between the two sides, saying the leaders had agreed to return of detention centres and terror suspects to Afghan control.
But, both Obama and Karzai were tight lipped on the size of foreign troop garrison in Afghanistan.
The US administration has asked Pentagon to come up with plans for a smaller and limited force levels in Afghanistan and US media reports have put the figure between 3,000-9,000.
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