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US defence chief Panetta visits Kabul

world Updated: Dec 13, 2011 20:02 IST

US Secretary of Defence Leon Panetta arrived in Kabul on Tuesday to reaffirm America's commitment to Afghanistan as Washington starts to withdraw combat troops and hand security to Afghan forces.

The Pentagon chief, who says violence is falling in the country where the United States has been at war with the Taliban for 10 years, is slated to meet Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Defence Secretary Abdul Rahim Wardak.

"I think 2011 will mark a turning point with regards with the efforts to Afghanistan," he told journalists on the flight to Kabul, his second trip to the country since taking up his post in July.

"Troops have been able to reduce the levels of violence there. They are successful in securing some of the key areas in Afghanistan. There's greater success in the Afghan military and police."

The United States has announced the withdrawal of 10,000 of its 100,000 troops by the end of the year, while 23,000 others will leave the country by the end of September 2012 after the summer "fighting season".

The number corresponds to the 33,000 "surge" troops ordered in by President Barack Obama in late 2009 in a bid to reverse the Taliban insurgency, defeat al Qaeda and quicken an end to the war.