President Barack Obama has declared the U.S. war in Afghanistan "will be over" by late 2014.
In his annual State of the Union address to Congress, Obama said on February 12 that 34,000 U.S. troops will leave Afghanistan over the next year -- cutting by more than half the current 66,000-strong U.S. deployment.
"This spring, our forces will move into a support role, while Afghan security forces take the lead," Obama said.
"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 pledged the United States would remain committed to Afghanistan after 2014, but he did not provide details.
Obama said Al-Qaeda was now only a "shadow of its former self” after years of operations against the militant group in Afghanistan and elsewhere.
Turning to Iran, Obama called on Tehran to pursue a diplomatic solution to the nuclear crisis, saying an international coalition was determined to prevent the Islamic republic from getting an atomic weapon.
Obama also condemned North Korea's third nuclear test, carried out less than 24 hours earlier, and pledged to pursue further cuts in the U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals.
Obama pledged to help countries including Yemen, Libya, and Somalia counter the threat posed by Islamic extremism.
He vowed to "continue to take direct action against those terrorists who pose the gravest threat to Americans."
The U.S. drone program, which has been used in Pakistan, Yemen, and elsewhere to track and kill suspected terrorists, has been heavily criticized for causing civilian deaths.
Obama said he would work with Congress to ensure the legality of such measures so that "our efforts are even more transparent to the American people and to the world."
Obama called the North Korean nuclear test, which Pyongyang said was in response to U.S. hostility, a "provocation" and pledged to "lead the world in taking firm action" in response.
It's The Economy...
Domestic issues, however, dominated Obama's address, as he used the opportunity to introduce his second-term agenda.
He urged Congress, which is divided between a Democrat-controlled Senate and a Republican-controlled House, to cooperate on deficit reduction and avoid $1.2 trillion in across-the-board spending cuts that will otherwise kick in next month.
Obama, who favors raising taxes on the very wealthiest Americans, said the key to the country's future economic success is in bolstering the middle class.
"Our economy is adding jobs, but too many people still can’t find full-time employment," he said.
"Corporate profits have rocketed to all-time highs, but for more than a decade, wages and incomes have barely budged. It is our generation’s task, then, to reignite the true engine of America’s economic growth -- a rising, thriving middle class."
Obama warned against Republican-backed initiatives to cut social spending, and urged new investment in infrastructure, manufacturing, and alternative energy.
The president also called on lawmakers to send him comprehensive immigration-reform legislation and initiatives to reduce gun violence.
Shortly after Obama's speech, Senator Marco Rubio of Florida rebutted many of Obama's proposals in the Republican Party's official response.
"I hope the president will abandon his obsession with raising taxes and instead work with us to achieve real growth in our economy," Rubio said.