The US on Tuesday warned that it had a "tough fight" on its hands in Afghanistan and plans to redeploy its forces by September so that 68,000 American troops remain in the war-torn country.
"Much tough fighting lies ahead in Afghanistan, but the gradually improving situation permits the remainder of the US surge force to redeploy by the end of September 2012, leaving 68,000 US troops in Afghanistan at that time," US defence secretary Leon Panetta told lawmakers.
In his testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, he said the budgetary proposals assume a continued level of about 68,000 troops in Afghanistan in the year 2013.
The American troop numbers in Afghanistan have come down after a peak of 100,000 in 2010-11 amid efforts by Washington to wind down one of America’s longest wars.
Panetta said over the past year the US has "begun a transition to Afghan-led responsibility for security– and we are on track to complete that transition by the end of 2014, in accordance with our Lisbon commitments".
"While future changes in troop levels may be implemented during FY13, those decisions will be based on advice from field commanders about conditions on the ground," he said at the Congressional hearing.
The Defense Secretary said for fiscal 2013, the Pentagon has requested $5.7 billion in funding for the Afghan National Security forces (ANSF).
"It is critically important that we maintain sufficient financial support to ANSF so that they can ultimately assume full security responsibility across Afghanistan," he said.
Panetta said the US military's mission in Iraq has ended, but the US still has a tough fight on its hands in Afghanistan.
Panetta told the lawmakers that "successful counterterrorism" measures have significantly weakened the al Qaeda.
He said last year the Nato effort in Libya also concluded with the fall of Muammar Gaddafi. "And successful counterterrorism efforts have significantly weakened al Qaeda and decimated its leadership," he said.