US President Barack Obama plans to withdraw some 34,000 American troops from Afghanistan this year – a little more than half the current number. The Karzai government has welcomed the move as long overdue.
The office of Afghan President Hamid Karzai issued a statement saying it had long been hoping for such an announcement and that the US president's plans would certainly provide added impetus for peace and security in the country.
Zahir Azimi, the spokesman for the Afghan defense ministry, added that "by the end of 2013, the government would take over the security responsibilities for all of Afghanistan." Afghan security forces had the necessary capabilities and strength, he said.
Currently, Afghanistan's own security forces consist of 157,000 soldiers and 190,000 police officers. The total number of personnel is supposed to increase by another 5,000 to 352,000 by 2014. Afghanistan is quick to emphasize that it is already responsible for security in 80 percent of the country.
US support still necessary
Due to a lack of equipment, Afghan troops are still dependent on international forces as far as air support is concerned. The United States has repeatedly denied Afghan requests for equipment for its air force.
Tooryalai Wesa, the governor of Kandahar province, where the Taliban have been traditionally strong, thinks Washington has an obligation to help.
"The US has to depart Afghanistan within the framework of a responsible transition process and provide all assistance possible for strengthening the peace process," he told DW. "They have to help us equip and train our troops."
Afghan military experts, unlike the government, are skeptical about the chances for peace and security in the country. Former general, Atiqullah Barialai, sees domestic political reasons behind President Obama's withdrawal decision. "In Afghanistan, the war continues unabated and the number of attacks by the Taliban is still very high. Furthermore, there are no confidence-building measures for compromises and reconciliation," Barialai told DW.
Political and military vacuum
After international troops leave, will Afghanistan once again slip back into civil war and become a pawn of foreign interest, like it did after the withdrawal of Soviet forces in 1989?
That is exactly what many Afghans fear, such as Mohammad Omar Sati, a member of the Kandahar province peace council. "Unfortunately, we are surrounded by local enemies and hostile neighbors, who are just waiting to lure us into a trap with intrigue."
The Taliban responded to Obama's announcement with the usual demand for an immediate troop withdrawal. Western news agencies quoted Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid as saying that the problems in the country could only be solved by Afghans themselves after a rapid withdrawal of international forces.
What happens after 2014?
Political observers think that the Taliban are not interested in a peaceful solution and are just waiting for foreign troops to leave to intensify their attacks. Military expert Baralai is one of the pessimists: "The Taliban are planning to expand their attacks and occupy additional territory. Afghan security forces will not be able to contain the insurgents," he said.
In Afghanistan, people are now anxiously awaiting the outcome of the current security negotiations with the US, which will determine the extent of training and equipment for Afghan forces and the size of the US anti-terror units to remain in Afghanistan after 2014.