Afghanistan: US To Assume Support Role Sooner

President Barack Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai have said the US military mission in Afghanistan will shift this spring from a combat role to support.

That timetable, announced during a joint news conference in Washington, is months earlier than expected. 

"Starting this spring, our troops will have a different mission - training, advising, assisting Afghan forces. It will be an historic moment and another step toward full Afghan sovereignty," Mr Obama said.

Mr Obama and Mr Karzai spoke after meeting at the White House to discuss the future role of the US and its 66,000 troops still stationed in Afghanistan.

Mr Obama said he will soon seek recommendations from top military advisers on executing troop draw-downs, and reaffirmed that the US transition out of the country would be complete by the end of 2014, when "this long war will come to a responsible end".

The US president said: "Make no mistake. Our path is clear and we are moving forward." 

Mr Karzai thanked the US for the gains made in his country, and vowed to maintain them after the planned US pull-out. 

He also said he would not seek reelection in 2014.

More than 352,000 Afghans are currently in training or on duty in police or military security roles. 

The leaders - whose relationship has been strained at times - also discussed the reconciliation process with the Taliban, which Mr Obama said would involve the opening of a Taliban office to facilitate ongoing talks. 

They also emphasised the need for support from neighbouring Pakistan, saying the future security of Afghanistan will benefit "the entire region".