WASHINGTON - (AP) - Hailing the beginning of the end of adevastating war, President Barack Obama announced Wednesday nighthe was pulling home 33,000 troops from Afghanistan by next summer,withdrawing the "surge" of forces he sent in to rescue a flailingeffort. Said Obama to a country eager for an exit: "The tide ofwar is receding."
A total of 10,000 troops will leave the war zone by the end ofthis year - fulfilling Obama's promise - and more than 20,000additional forces will leave by the summer of 2012, shortly beforethe president will go before voters in search of a second term.
Still, almost 70,000 U.S. troops will remain in an unstablecountry, fighting in a war bound to see more Americans killed.Obama said they will leave at a steady pace, but the U.S. combatmission is not expected to end until December 2014 - and even then,a sizable and enduring contingent may remain in a different role.
Obama's announcement from the White House came in a perilouspolitical environment, with Americans soured on the war and theeconomy, many members of Congress pushing him to get troops homeeven faster, and his Republican presidential rivals taking shots athis leadership at every chance. Conceding the economic strain ofwaging war at a time of rising debt and fiscal constraint, Obamasaid it was time for America "to focus on nation building here athome."
The withdrawal is supported by the bold bottom-line claims ofhis security team: Afghanistan, training ground for the Sept. 11,2001, attacks on America, is no longer a launching pad forexporting terrorism and hasn't been for years. Yet the White Houseinsists the U.S. must maintain a strong fighting force inAfghanistan for now to keep the country from slipping back into ahaven for al-Qaida terrorists.