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WASHINGTON: US President Barack Obama will announce in his State of the Union address today that he will pull 34,000 troops home from Afghanistan next year, a source familiar with his speech said.
The long-awaited move will halve the size of the 66,000-strong US force in Afghanistan, ahead of a final withdrawal of most foreign combat troops by the end of 2014.
The source said the president would undertake to complete the withdrawals by around the time of his next State of the Union speech next year.
There were no immediate details of how quickly the drawdown would take place.
The timetable will impact the number of troops Nato will have in place to fight the Taliban after the spring thaw in Afghanistan.
A senior US official said that Obama had held telephone talks with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, British Prime Minister David Cameron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel to inform them of his decision.
Debate is taking place within the administration on the size of a residual force, to train Afghan soldiers and conduct anti-terror missions that will remain behind after the formal withdrawal.
Last month, US officials suggested it was theoretically possible that Washington would leave no troops in the country, though observers saw that move as a negotiating tactic with Karzai in town.
The senior official said that Washington remained committed to a long-term strategic partnership with Afghanistan, and reiterated that talks on a bilateral security agreement were taking place.
Afghanistan has committed to taking full responsibility for its security by the end of 2014 and the White House said there were now 352,000 troops in new Afghan security forces, thanks to a broad Nato training effort.
Nato said it would no longer lead combat operations in the next two years, but would provide support to Afghan soldiers.
Obama has made ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan the centrepiece of his presidency, and often says a long decade or more of US war is almost over.
Obama said after talks at the White House last month that progress in Afghanistan wrought by sacrifices of US and allied troops would allow a speedy transition.
“We’ve pushed the Taliban out of their strongholds,” Obama said.
“And our core objective — the reason we went to war in the first place — is now within reach: Ensuring that Al Qaeda can never again use Afghanistan to launch attacks against America.”
Earlier, Obama praised the humble heroism of US soldier Clinton Romesha, awarding him a Medal of Honour for his actions in one of the most desperate firefights of the Afghan war.
Army Staff Sergeant Romesha, 31, fought off enemy fire despite being wounded, in a 12-hour siege of an exposed mountain outpost in 2009 in which 53 US soldiers were pinned down by 300 Taliban fighters.
Eight Americans died and 22 were wounded in fighting.
Obama described the battle as “as one of the most intense battles of the entire war in Afghanistan.”
Romesha, now retired, served two tours in Afghanistan and four in Iraq. He lives with his family in North Dakota and works in the oil industry.