Afghanistan: Taliban vows to fight on
Washingtom - President Barack Obama's decision to bring 33 000 US surge troops home from Afghanistan by next summer was welcomed by allies on Thursday but dismissed by Taliban insurgents who vowed to fight on.
The Taliban dismissed the withdrawal as a "symbolic step".
In an e-mailed statement, the Taliban stressed that "the solution for the Afghan crisis lies in the full withdrawal of all foreign troops immediately" - and that "our armed struggle will increase" until that happens.
More than 1 600 US soldiers have died in Afghanistan since the invasion after the September 11 2001 attacks, including at least 187 this year alone.
Despite Pentagon appeals for a more modest drawdown, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the plan provides "enough resources, time and, perhaps most importantly, flexibility to bring the surge to a successful conclusion".
The president spoke against the backdrop of growing domestic questioning of the purpose of the war, especially following the killing of al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden last month.
More than 65 000 troops left
Obama expressed support for fragile Afghan reconciliation talks with the Taliban, saying they could make progress "in part because of our military effort".
But despite the drawdowns, there will still be more than 65 000 troops in Afghanistan when Obama seeks a second term in November 2012 elections.
Turning to al-Qaeda, Obama said documents seized from bin Laden's compound in Pakistan showed the organisation was under "enormous strain".
One official said the US operation against al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan's tribal regions had "exceeded our expectations", saying 20 of the group's top 30 leaders had been killed in the last year.
With US-Pakistan ties still raw after the bin Laden raid, Obama said he would insist Islamabad keep its commitments to fight the "cancer" of violent extremism.
Obama's plans drew a mixed reaction.
Karzai welcomes move
Nato Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the partial withdrawal was a "natural result" of progress on the ground.
"We can see the tide is turning. The Taliban are under pressure. The Afghan security forces are getting stronger every day. And the transition to Afghan security lead is on track to be completed in 2014," he added.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai also welcomed the announcement, as did US allies Germany and France, which said they would embark on similar withdrawals.
But hawkish Republican Senator John McCain said Obama was taking an "unnecessary risk" and noted Petraeus and Gates had recommended a slower withdrawal.
Presidential candidate Mitt Romney meanwhile suggested Obama's motivation was political, saying: "We all want our troops to come home as soon as possible, but we shouldn't adhere to an arbitrary timetable."
Obama placed the Afghan mission in the context of his wider foreign policy and war strategy, arguing he has drawn down 100 000 troops from Iraq and will oversee a full withdrawal by the end of this year.
He also said a Nato summit to review progress on Afghanistan will take place in Chicago in May 2012, alongside the G8 summit of industrialised nations.