WASHINGTON, June 22 (UPI) -- President Barack Obama Wednesday said U.S. troops will begin coming home from Afghanistan next month as the United States charts a more "centered course."
Announcing an initial drawdown of 10,000 troops by the end of the year and 33,000 by next summer, Obama noted a political settlement is the only way to create a "lasting peace." After that, the remaining 66,000 troops will begin returning at a steady pace through 2014 as the U.S. mission changes "from combat to support."
In a nationally broadcast address from the White House East Room, Obama noted the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have cost 6,000 American lives since the United States invaded Afghanistan in October 2001 in response to the Sept. 11 terror attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
"Tonight we take comfort in knowing the tide of war is receding," Obama said, adding that it's time to focus on "nation-building at home."
In the future, Obama said: "We must chart a more centered course. Like generations before, we must embrace America's singular role in the course of human events. But we must be as pragmatic as we are passionate; as strategic as we are resolute. … We stand not for empire, but for self-determination."
Obama said the goals he set when he announced he was sending an additional 33,000 troops to Afghanistan have been met.
"We are starting this drawdown from a position of strength. Al-Qaida is under more pressure than at any time since 9/11," he said. "Together with the Pakistanis, we have taken out more than half of al-Qaida's leadership. And thanks to our intelligence professionals and Special Forces, we killed Osama bin Laden, the only leader that al-Qaida had ever known. This was a victory for all who have served since 9/11."
Obama said he knows "huge challenges remain. This is the beginning -- but not the end -- of our effort to wind down this war. We will have to do the hard work of keeping the gains that we have made, while we draw down our forces and transition responsibility for security to the Afghan government."
Obama said withdrawal from Afghanistan does not mean the war on terror is over and pledged to continue fighting terrorism wherever it rears its head to keep al-Qaida and other groups from launching attacks against the United States or its allies. He also cautioned against turning toward isolationism.
"Let us responsibly end these wars, and reclaim the American dream that is at the center of our story. With confidence in our cause; with faith in our fellow citizens; and with hope in our hearts, let us go about the work of extending the promise of America -- for this generation, and the next."
The war in Afghanistan has become the longest in U.S. history. Obama has come under increasing pressure to withdraw since the May 2 killing of bin Laden. Obama noted Wednesday al-Qaida remains dangerous "but we have put al-Qaida on a path to defeat, and we will not relent until the job is done."