(Newsroom America) -- Defense Secretary Leon Panetta says the United States military has completed drawing down the surge forces President Obama committed to Afghanistan in 2009, reducing the presence by 33,000 troops on schedule.
"As we reflect on this moment, it is an opportunity to recognize that the surge accomplished its objectives of reversing Taliban momentum on the battlefield, and dramatically increased the size and capability of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF)," he said.
Secretary Panetta said the growth in the ANSF has allowed the U.S. and its ISAF Coalition partners to begin the process of transition to Afghan security lead, which will soon extend across every province and more than 75 percent of the Afghan population.
At the same time, he said the coalition had struck enormous blows against al Qaeda's leadership, consistent with the core goal of disrupting, dismantling and defeating al Qaeda and denying it a safe-haven.
"It is important to underscore that even as our surge troops return home, there are roughly 68,000 Americans who remain in a tough fight in Afghanistan, alongside their NATO and Afghan partners. We are a nation at war. But the international community is also strongly united behind our shared strategy to transition to Afghan security control, which will be completed by the end of 2014," he said.