Although Afghan police and soldiers are expected to take full responsibility for security in the country by 2014, he said, “if you still want our support, we will still be here to help.”
In Kabul, the capital, President Hamid Karzai said Afghanistan would “always be thankful” to the international community for its assistance, but would be ready to stand on its own by 2014.
“This soil can only by protected by the Afghan sons, and it has to be protected,” Karzai said at a news conference. “The people of Afghanistan, by help of their sons and youths, will protect their soil and people.”
America’s European allies also welcomed the drawdown announcement and made their own withdrawal promises Thursday. But the reaction of Karzai’s political opponents, and the Taliban, ranged from skepticism to disdain.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy said the approximately 4,000 French troops in Afghanistan would engage in a “phased withdrawal” mirroring that of the United States.
Britain, with more than 10,000 troops, has previously said it will not be engaged in combat in Afghanistan by 2015. In a statement Thursday, Prime Minister David Cameron said that, “where conditions on the ground allow, it is right that we bring troops home sooner.”
During the past week in Britain, there has been an unusual back and forth between Cameron and military leaders over the high cost of continuing military efforts in Afghanistan and Libya, especially at a time of wide austerity measures in Britain, including deep defense cuts.
“There are insufficient resources and everyone — the U.S., Britain, NATO — is very stretched,” said Xenia Dormandy, a senior fellow at Chatham House, a think tank in London. “British and Americans are questioning if the gravest threat in the world is from Afghanistan or if the gravest threat is elsewhere.”
German foreign minister Guido Westerwelle praised the American plan and said Germany hoped to begin a withdrawal of its 5,000 troops in Afghanistan by the end of the year.
“We’ve already spent nearly 10 years in Afghanistan with our troops,” Westerwelle said Thursday. “Not only the Americans, but also the Europeans, and we Germans, will begin gradually pulling out our troops in Afghanistan this year.”
In Kabul, Abdullah Abdullah — a political opponent of Karzai’s and former foreign minister — voiced concern over the government’s ability to stave off extremist groups.
“The presence of a leader without a vision, without a sense of direction, without a sense of purpose ... [has] prevented most of the goals of the Afghan people to be achieved,” Abdullah said. “Our concern is that in the coming few years, [with] less resources, less troops available, we might miss further opportunities.”