WASHINGTON - US President Barack Obama said Tuesday night that tough fighting lies ahead in Afghanistan but renewed his commitment to begin withdrawing US troops this year. In his prime time State of the Union address to Congress, Obama said the troop buildup he ordered has stripped the Taliban of strongholds on Afghanistan. He said the United States and coalition partners will work to prevent the militants from re-establishing a stranglehold in the country and will keep pressure on terrorist network al-Qaeda. International forces will continue the transition to an Afghan lead in providing security and stability, and US forces will begin drawing down in July, Obama said. There will be tough fighting ahead, and the Afghan government will need to deliver better governance, Obama said. But we are strengthening the capacity of the Afghan people and building an enduring partnership with them. The Obama administration has planned a partial withdrawal this year. Decisions on future pullouts will be based on conditions on the ground, with 2014 set as the timeframe for completing the transition to Afghan security forces. In doing so, the Obama administration is trying to convince the sceptical Republicans, who now control the House of Representatives, of progress in the war-shattered country, transition of security responsibility to Afghan forces. This year, we will work with nearly 50 countries to begin a transition to an Afghan lead. And this July, we will begin to bring our troops home, he said to loud applause. The president also praised US troops and civilians for reclaiming Taliban strongholds and training Afghan Security Forces, and claimed that fewer Afghans are under the control of the insurgency, and al-Qaedas safe havens in Pakistan are shrinking. We have sent a message from the Afghan border to the Arabian Peninsula to all parts of the globe: we will not relent, we will not waver, and we will defeat you, he said. However, at the same time he warned that there would tough fighting ahead for troops and civilians in Afghanistan, and that the Afghan government would need to deliver better governance. But we are strengthening the capacity of the Afghan people and building an enduring partnership with them, he said. President Obama devoted most of his State of the Union address to jobs, the economy, and rebuilding the countrys infrastructure. Mention of Afghanistan came approximately 48 minutes into his speech. The president also restated the mission in Afghanistan: Our purpose is clear - by preventing the Taliban from reestablishing a stranglehold over the Afghan people, we will deny al-Qaeda the safe-haven that served as a launching pad for 9/11. On other international topics, the president touted the progress in Iraq and his intention to complete the US withdrawal this year. Americas commitment has been kept - the Iraq war is coming to an end, he said. Obama praised the completion of a new nuclear-arms reduction agreement with Russia that requires both sides to reduce their arsenals of strategic warheads by one-third from current levels. He said the diplomatic effort to curtail Irans nuclear activities has produced tougher sanctions, tighter sanctions than ever before. The United States will maintain pressure on North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons programme, Obama said. REPUBLICAN RESPONSE New Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Florida Republican, immediately issued a response criticising the presidents mention of the July drawdown date. Tonight, the presidents speech reflected a strong commitment, which I support, to defeating insurgents in Afghanistan and rooting out al-Qaeda operatives in Afghanistan and Pakistan. However, I am concerned that the president has placed a timeline beginning in July for the withdrawal of our troops. This sends a mixed message to our troops and to the enemies they face. I steadfastly believe that, going forward, leaders in Washington must look to our commanders on the ground when determining our troop levels, she said. US LEADERSHIP In his speech, Obama also said American leadership can be seen in efforts to secure nuclear weapons, as he praised the bipartisan approval of the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with Russia. This is just a part of how we are shaping a world that favours peace and prosperity by working with allies Obama said, ticking off a revitalised Nato, and increased cooperation in matters ranging from counter-terrorism to missile defence. Recent events, such a vote on independence in South Sudan and the ouster of the Tunisian president have shown us that what sets us apart must not just be our power - it must be the purpose behind it, Obama said. And tonight, let us be clear: The United States of America stands with the people of Tunisia, and supports the democratic aspirations of all people. He said the United States mustnt forget the men and women who defend the country. Tonight, let us speak with one voice in reaffirming that our nation is united in support of our troops and their families, the president said. Let us serve them as well as they have served us - by giving them the equipment they need; by providing them with the care and benefits they have earned; and by enlisting our veterans in the great task of building our own nation. Obama challenged Americans to unleash their creative spirit, set aside their partisan differences and come together around a common goal of out competing other nations in a rapidly shifting global economy. Obama outlined what he called a plan to win the future a blueprint for spending in critical areas like education, high-speed rail, clean-energy technology and high-speed Internet to help the United States weather the unsettling impact of globalisation and the challenge from emerging powers like China and India. The rules have changed, he said. But at the same time he proposed budget-cutting measures, including a five-year freeze in spending on some domestic programmes that he said would reduce the deficit by $400 billion over 10 years. Drawing a stark contrast between himself and Republicans, who are advocating immediate and deep cuts in spending, Obama laid out a philosophy of a government that could be more efficient but would still be necessary if the nation was to address fundamental challenges at home and abroad.