"It will be a historic moment and another step toward full Afghan sovereignty" ... US President Barack Obama with Afghan President, Hamid Karzai. Photo: AFP
AMERICAN and British troops are to ''accelerate'' the withdrawal from front-line fighting in Afghanistan by adopting an advisory role starting this northern spring, the US President, Barack Obama, and his Afghan counterpart, Hamid Karzai announced.
''It will be a historic moment and another step toward full Afghan sovereignty,'' Mr Obama told a joint news conference at the White House on Friday.
Coalition troops had been expected to give up their combat role this northern summer before a ''responsible'' withdrawal of the remaining 66,000 troops from Afghanistan in 2014. But that has been pushed forward after talks between Mr Obama and Mr Karzai.
Mr Karzai said: ''I'm very happy to hear from the President that in spring this year the Afghan forces will be fully responsible for providing security and protection to the Afghan people; and that the international forces - the American forces - will be no longer present in Afghan villages.''
In another important concession for Mr Karzai, the US has also agreed that detention facilities in Afghanistan will fall under Afghan sovereign control ''soon after'' Mr Karzai's departure on Friday night.
Control of detainee centres, particularly those at Bagram airbase outside Kabul, has been a sticking point for Mr Karzai.
Mr Karzai also received agreement from the US to set up a Taliban office in the Qatari capital, Doha, to facilitate possible peace negotiations.
Negotiations are expected to continue until November over how many international troops will remain in Afghanistan after 2014.
Mr Obama declined to speculate on the size of any force.
However, he made clear that no US troops could remain in Afghanistan if Kabul did not agree that American soldiers would be immune from prosecution under Afghan law.
Mr Karzai, who said he would retire after next year's elections, said the decision to remove US forces from Afghan villages would help him sell the idea of immunity to the Afghan people.