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Updated: June 23, 2011 14:27 IST

Afghan youth to lead as U.S. troops go: Karzai

AP
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Afghan President Hamid Karzai. File photo: AP.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai. File photo: AP.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai said on Thursday his nation’s youth will stand up and defend the country as the U.S. begins to pull troops out, while the Taliban promised to fight as long as foreign soldiers remain there.

Mr. Karzai spoke briefly from the presidential palace on Thursday morning after U.S. President Barack Obama announced he would bring 33,000 U.S. troops home by next summer. Mr. Karzai thanked international troops for their support and said “the people of Afghanistan will be protecting their homeland.”

“The transition of the security and the withdrawal of the foreign troops from Afghanistan means the Afghan forces must be strengthened,” Mr. Karzai said.

The U.S. and its allies have set December 31, 2014, as a target date for ending the combat mission in Afghanistan. Mr. Karzai, who has increased his criticism of the U.S.—led NATO force in recent months, said he and others welcomed the withdrawals as “a good measure.”

Meanwhile, in a rare statement in English, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said the U.S. “must take serious steps to stop this pointless bloodshed.”

The “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan once again wants to make it clear that the solution for the Afghan crisis lies in the full withdrawal of all foreign troops immediately and until this ... happens, our armed struggle will increase from day to day,” Mujahid said.

Meanwhile, French President Nicolas Sarkozy announced the progressive withdrawal of France’s troops from Afghanistan on a timetable matching the American troop pullout that starts this summer. France currently has about 4,000 troops in the country.

On Wednesday night, Mr. Obama announced an initial drawdown of 10,000 troops in two phases, with 5,000 troops coming home this summer and 5,000 more by the end of the year. An additional 20,000—plus are to follow by September 2012.

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