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Afghan Government 'Ready' To Take Over Security Responsibilities

Afghan President Hamid Karzai (left) with U.S. President Barack Obama at a joint news conference at the White House in January.
The Afghan government has welcomed U.S. President Barack Obama's announcement that the United States will withdraw more than half of its troops from Afghanistan over the next year.

Obama made the announcement in his annual State of the Union address on February 12, as the international coalition in Afghanistan prepares to end its combat mission by the close of 2014.

Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman Mohammad Zahir Azimi said that Afghan troops will fill the "vacuum" brought on by the withdrawal of 34,000 U.S. troops this year.

He added that Afghan forces will take “all security responsibilities by the end of 2013.”

However, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid dismissed the U.S. troop pullout as insufficient, saying that the war will continue “as long as the invading forces remain in Afghanistan.”

Meanwhile, local Afghan officials said on February 13 that a NATO air strike had killed 10 civilians, including five children, in eastern Afghanistan's Kunar Province.

Civilian casualties caused by NATO forces are a highly sensitive issue and are regularly condemned by President Hamid Karzai.

Based on reporting by AFP, AP, Reuters, and dpa