Obama officially announces massive troop cut in Afghanistan

"Tonight, I can announce that over the next year, another 34,000 American troops will come home from Afghanistan. This drawdown will continue. And by the end of next year, our war in Afghanistan will be over," Obama told a joint session of Congress during Tuesday's State of the Union speech. 

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Once those troops return stateside, the United States will have 32,000 boots-on-the ground in Afghanistan, with those forces expected to withdraw completely from the country by 2014. 

"After a decade of grinding war, our brave men and women in uniform are coming home," Obama added. 

Despite providing little detail on what the pace of that coming troop withdrawal would be, outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta praised the president's decision. 

Members of the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday approved the nomination of Panetta's successor at DOD, former Nebraska Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel, by a party-line vote of 14 to 11. 

Obama's troop withdrawal plan, according to Panetta, fell in line with recommendations made by Gen. John Allen, the former top U.S. officer in Afghanistan, as well as other top defense and national security officials within the administration. 

"I welcome President Obama's announcement tonight that 34,000 American troops will be home from Afghanistan by this time next year," Panetta said in a statement issued Tuesday. 

"I strongly supported General Allen¹s recommendation and I believe the President¹s decision puts us on the right path to succeed in Afghanistan," he added. 

Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford will oversee that upcoming troop redeployment and overall withdrawal from Afghanistan as the new commander of American and allied forces in the country. 

"I am confident that General Dunford will have the combat power he needs to protect our forces, to continue building up the capabilities of Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), and to achieve the goal of this campaign ­ to deny al Qaeda a safe haven to attack our homeland," Panetta said. 

The scheduled troop withdrawal announced on Tuesday also falls in line with the White House's decision earlier this year to hand over control of all security operations to Afghan National Security Forces ahead of schedule.

That transition had been scheduled to take place sometime in early 2014 but will now take place this spring. The decision was made after one-on-one talks between Obama and Karzai during the Afghan leader's trip to Washington in January.

One early sign of the accelerating U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan came Monday, when the first tranche of U.S. weapons and equipment began filtering across the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

While the U.S. will still have more than 30,000 troops in Afghanistan after this year, those forces will take a backseat to Afghan commanders who will have the lead in battling the Taliban and other Islamic extremist groups operating in the country.

Those remaining American forces will be focused on training and advising ANSF units as Washington and Kabul continue to lay the foundation for the final U.S. drawdown and continued postwar involvement in the country, Obama said. 

"We are negotiating an agreement with the Afghan government . . . that allow us to pursue the remnants of al Qaeda and their affiliates," in Afghanistan, Obama said. 

"America’s commitment to a unified and sovereign Afghanistan will endure," the president added.