The South Asia Channel

34,000 U.S. troops to leave Afghanistan over following year

New post: Gianni Koskinas, "What Afghanistan needs in 2014: A lighter, smarter, long-term commitment" (FP).

The next move

U.S. President Barack Obama announced in his State of the Union address on Tuesday night that the United States will withdraw 34,000 troops from Afghanistan by this time next year (NYT, Post, Reuters, AJE, WSJ, CNN). The planned withdrawal will cut by more than half the size of the current 66,000-strong U.S. force in Afghanistan, but will leave that troop level through the 2013 fighting season.

A NATO airstrike killed ten Afghan civilians in the eastern Afghan province of Kunar on Wednesday, according to local officials (Reuters). The attack appeared to target Taliban fighters, four of whom were also killed.

Bonus read: Peter Bergen, "The new story of the death of Osama bin Laden" (CNN).

Infighting

Tahir Mehmood Ashrafi, head of Pakistan's All Ulema Council, criticized a delegation of visiting Afghan clerics for refusing to invite the Taliban to an upcoming conference intended to be a platform for clerics from both nations to denounce suicide attacks and other forms of violent religious extremism (AP). Ashrafi accused the Afghan delegation of being too close to the Afghan government, and seeking to exclude the Taliban in order to garner more support for the Karzai administration. Ashrafi threatened that his five-member delegation would boycott the conference if Taliban leaders are not invited.

Fighting between rival militant groups Ansarul Islam (AI) and the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) continued in Khyber Agency's Tirah Valley on Tuesday, with at least six AI fighters and 13 TTP fighters killed in the clashes (ET).

The Amitabh App

Bollywood megastar Amitabh Bachchan announced via Twitter on Tuesday that his digital team has created an app available for Android and iPhone through which fans can send him a voice message and receive a response (ET). The app, named Bubbly, should work all over the world, giving fans everywhere access to the 70-year-old actor's voice anytime they want.

-- Jennifer Rowland

MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images