|Of the 40,000 foreign troops due to leave Afghanistan by the end of 2012, 33,000 will be American soldiers [Reuters]
Members of the 49-nation international force in Afghanistan have announced that the number of foreign troops in that nation will shrink by 40,000 by the end of 2012.
The largest planned reduction is from the US, which will remove 33,000 troops. That would represent one-third of the 101,000 American troops in Afghanistan in June, when US military presence was at its peak, according to US defence department figures.
The planned reduction of international troops will give the Afghan forces, who are set to begin training on avoiding civilian casualties next month, a larger presence on the frontlines of the war.
Other nations have announced withdrawal plans for next year as well, but have vowed to continue to play a role in training Afghan police and military in the coming years.
The US-led foreign force says Afghan soldiers and police will be ready to secure the entire nation in three years, but Afghans still fear the breakout of another civil war like the one in the 1990s which led to the rise of the Taliban in 1996.
'A cyclical effect'
Colonel Jimmie Cummings Jr, of the US army, says the announced reductions will not affect the multinational force's ability to combat the Taliban.
"We are getting more Afghans into the field and we are transferring more responsibility to them in many areas," he said.
Cummings pointed out that many leaders of the Taliban, al-Qaeda and the Haqqani networks had been captured or killed.
Earlier this week, President Hamid Karzai announced that Afghan troops would be taking over security responsibility, either in whole or in part, across 18 provinces throughout the country.
This second stage in a proposed four-step transition process would put Afghan forces in charge of security for half of the Afghan population as foreign troops prepare for a 2014 pullout.
Other Afghans fear an economic collapse if foreign aid dries up as a result of an international withdrawal.
Earlier this month, the World Bank issued a warning that an abrupt cut of foreign aid could severely destabilise the country, compromising its ability to provide basic services and pay for its security forces.
The World Bank estimates an annual need of seven billion dollars in foreign aid over the next 10 years.
The troop reduction, however, has already begun.
According to the Associated Press news agency, 14,000 foreign troops will leave Afghanistan by the end of December.
With only two months left in the year, the US is still pushing forward with a plan to withdraw 10,000 service members before 2012.
Canada, whose combat mission in Afghanistan is set to end this year, pulled out 2,850 combat forces in the summer.
France and Britain are set to send 400 soldiers a piece home.
A combination of upcoming elections and the current debt crisis in Europe could in fact further speed up withdrawal plans in Afghanistan, something Robert Gates, the then US defence secretary, warned against in June.
"The more U.S. forces draw down, the more it gives the green light for our international partners to also head for the exits," Jeffrey Dressler, a senior research analyst at the Institute for the Study of War in Washington, told AP.
"There is a cyclical effect here that is hard to temper once it gets going."