Karzai, Obama Agree to Hasten Security Transition to Afghans
 
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President Hamid Karzai and his US counterpart Barack Obama have agreed to speed up slightly the schedule for moving Afghanistan's security forces into the lead across the country, with US forces shifting fully to a support role.

The two leaders said in a joint press conference on Friday that Obama has also agreed to place battlefield detainees under the control of the Afghan government.

"Starting this spring, our troops will have a different mission -- training, advising, and assisting Afghan forces. It will be a historic moment and another step toward full Afghan sovereignty," Obama told reporters.

This brings the full transition forward by about three months to the start of spring instead of summer.

After meeting Karzai, Obama said that the Nato forces would have a "very limited" role in the country after 2014 and that Washington had achieved its primary goal of "decapitating" Al Qaeda.

Karzai said he was pleased by the agreement, in part because it means that by spring there will be no foreign troops in Afghan villages.

"International forces, the American forces, will be no longer present in the villages... it will be the task of the Afghan forces to provide for the Afghan people in security and protection," he said.

The US has around 66,000 troops now in Afghanistan. It has proposed to keep between 6,000 and 15,000 troops in Afghanistan after 2014 to continuing pursuing terrorists and training Afghan security forces.

Friday's meeting was the first between the two presidents since Obama was re-elected in November.

Meanwhile, notable changes in the US national security team who deal with Karzai and the war are afoot with the some high-level departures and appointments.

The US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta are both expected to leave their posts within weeks. Obama nominated Senator John Kerry as the nation's top diplomat and former Senator Chuck Hagel to lead the Pentagon.

Karzai also met with Clinton and Panetta on Thursday during which the Pentagon chief offered an optimistic outlook of the war's progress.

"After a long and difficult path, we finally are, I believe, at the last chapter of establishing an Afghanistan, a sovereign Afghanistan, that can govern and secure itself for the future," Panetta said.

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