NATIONAL: President Obama to Announce the Return of 34,000 Troops

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Washington (CNN)President Barack Obama will announce in his State of the Union speech on Tuesday night that some 34,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan will have returned home by this time next year, according to sources with knowledge of the the address.

The move will reduce the number of U.S. forces in the country by more than half. There are now about 66,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

A Washington Post poll on Tuesday showed that 80% of registered voters support the president’s policy to end the war in Afghanistan.

In January, Obama met with Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Washington, where they agreed to accelerate the military transition in Afghanistan.

Afghan forces will take the lead in combat missions throughout the country starting in the spring, instead of mid-year, as was previously expected.

The White House has been considering a range of troop levels — from up to 15,000 to none — to remain in Afghanistan once the combat mission officially ends at the end of 2014.

READ: Questions facing Obama about Afghanistan

Those options were submitted by Gen. John Allen, who until recently was the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan. Allen’s final days in that job were marred by an investigation linked to the sex scandal that prompted the resignation of David Petraeus as CIA director.

Allen was cleared of allegations that he wrote potentially inappropriate e-mails to a woman involved in the scandal. He is now the nominee to become the top NATO commander and was replaced in Afghanistan this week by Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford.

More troop reductions ahead

A senior administration official told CNN on Tuesday that in addition to withdrawing 34,000 U.S. troops by next February, more reductions will continue through the end of 2014 as Afghans take full responsibility for their security.

The United States and its partners in the war in Afghanistan have “struck devastating blows against al Qaeda, and Afghan forces continue to grow stronger with 352,000 now in training or on duty,” the official said.

“By the end of 2014, we will responsibly bring our war in Afghanistan to a close,” the official said, adding that Obama made his decision “based on the recommendations of the military and his national security team,” consultations with Karzai and “international coalition partners.”

A key factor for meeting Obama’s plan is the fighting season in Afghanistan, which runs from spring to fall, depending on weather conditions, officials said.

“Commanders will have discretion on pace of this drawdown which will allow them to maintain the force they need through the fighting season,” according to one of those officials.

To read more, click on the link: cnn.com

Article Courtesy of CNN

Picture Courtesy of Getty Images and CNN

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