|U.S. President Barack Obama (R) shakes hands with Afghan President Hamid Karzai during a joint press conference at the White House in Washington D.C., the United States, Jan. 11, 2013. (Xinhua/Fang Zhe)|
WASHINGTON, Jan. 11 (Xinhua) -- U.S. President Barack Obama said on Friday that the NATO forces in Afghanistan will move to a support role "this spring," advancing a shift that was originally set for this summer.
Addressing a joint press conference with visiting Afghan President Hamid Karzai after talks at the White House, Obama took note of the ongoing transition of lead security to the Afghan forces and the military advances made against the al-Qaida and the Taliban.
"Today we agreed that, as Afghan forces take the lead and as President Karzai announces the final phase of the transition, coalition forces will move to a support role this spring," Obama said.
"Starting this spring, our troops will have a different mission: training, advising, assisting Afghan forces," he added. "It will be a historic moment and another step toward full Afghan sovereignty."
As a result, the U.S. military will further reduce its presence in Afghanistan, which stands at some 66,000 now. In all, the NATO- led forces have some 100,000 troops in Afghanistan.
At their summit in Chicago in May last year, NATO leaders agreed to shift to a support role in mid-2013 and withdraw most of their combat troops by the end of 2014.
In terms of the specific pace of the withdrawal, Obama said. " In the coming months, I'll announce the next phase of our drawdown, a responsible drawdown that protects the gains our troops have made."
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