- - Thursday, June 23, 2011

Afghanistan’s leader and European allies hailed President Obama’s plan to start withdrawing 33,000 U.S. troops from the war-torn country in the next year.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai asserted that his country’s armed forces are ready to take over as the U.S. moves toward a full withdrawal of combat forces.

Mr. Karzai, who has warned the U.S. and NATO they risk becoming occupiers after nearly 10 years of war, called the drawdown “a good measure,” adding that Afghan youth would guard their nation against the Taliban and other insurgents who have just begun a new offensive.

What’s more, France jumped at the chance to announce its own drawdown in a mission that has drained budgets and strained public opinion across the continent.

Mr. Obama said Wednesday that he will bring home 33,000 troops by next summer - nearly as many as the number sent to Afghanistan for the 2009 “surge” aimed at saving a flailing war effort.

France, with about 4,000 troops in Afghanistan, will start “a progressive pullout of reinforcements sent to Afghanistan, in a proportional way and on a similar timetable to the pullout of the American reinforcements,” French President Nicolas Sarkozy said in a statement just hours after Mr. Obama’s speech.

French Defense Minister Gerard Longuet, doing the math on the U.S. pullout, said that roughly a quarter of American troops would leave Afghanistan by next summer and that France “will do the same.”

That means about 1,000 French troops will be out by 2012.

In Germany, Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said his country aims to begin pulling out troops for the first time by year’s end.

Germany has about 4,900 troops in a part of northern Afghanistan that was relatively calm for a long time but has seen increasing fighting in recent years.

“The prospect of withdrawal is now becoming concrete,” Mr. Westerwelle said in a statement. “The international community and we, too, have worked hard on this for over a year.”

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