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February 12, 2013

Obama to announce 34K troops to be home in 1 year

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama will announce in his State of the Union address that 34,000 U.S. troops will be home from Afghanistan within a year, a senior administration official said Tuesday.

That’s about half the U.S. forces currently serving there, and marks the next phase in the administration’s plans to formally finish the war by the end of 2014. The U.S. now has 66,000 troops in Afghanistan, down from a peak of about 100,000 as recently as 2010.

The U.S. is still finalizing plans for the size and scope of its military presence after the war ends. The White House has said it would be open to leaving no troops in Afghanistan, though it’s likely that a small presence will remain, in keeping with the Pentagon’s preferences.

Obama won’t announce troop numbers beyond 2014 in Tuesday’s speech and has not yet made that decision, said the official, who requested anonymity in order to discuss the troop drawdown ahead of the president.

Obama discussed the next phases of the drawdown with Afghan President Hamid Karzai during a day-long meeting in Washington last month, the first meeting between the two leaders since Obama’s re-election. The two leaders agreed to accelerate their timetable for putting Afghan forces in the lead combat role nationwide, moving that transition up from the summer to the spring.

Obama will announce the troop drawdown and the future of the U.S. role in Afghanistan during a joint session of Congress that is otherwise expected to be dominated by the economy and other domestic issues.

Foreign policy has intruded in recent days, however, and the White House quickly condemned North Korea early Tuesday for its nuclear launch hours before Obama’s address. The president is expected to make further remarks on this in his primetime speech.

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