KABUL, Afghanistan – This years pullout of 23,000 American troops from Afghanistan is at the halfway mark, U.S. Gen. John Allen, the top commander of U.S. and NATO forces, said Sunday in an interview with The Associated Press.
Its a kind of milestone toward wrapping up the U.S. and NATO combat role after a decade in the war-torn nation – but Allen cautioned against putting too much emphasis on the U.S. troop drawdown, because the U.S.-led coalitions campaign is continuing.
Still, Allen said that he knows the clock is ticking on the NATO coalitions combat mission, which is to end at the close of 2014 in 29 months.
In a wide-ranging interview in his office in Kabul, Allen also said that while Afghan security forces were increasingly taking the lead, more work needs to be done to shore up their confidence in planning and executing operations. He said this summers coalition operations were aimed at pushing insurgents farther from population centers, expanding the security zone around the capital, Kabul, and getting more Afghan forces into the lead in the east, which borders Pakistan.
The Afghan army and police force are battling low levels of literacy, corruption within their ranks and lack of equipment and experience, but Allen said they were showing themselves to be increasingly capable on the battlefield. Getting them into the lead is an essential goal of the next 29 months, he said.
We havent even recruited the whole Afghan national security force. Thats not going to happen for another couple months, but by Oct. 1, we hope to be at 352,000, he said. We dont finish completely fielding the Afghan forces until December 2013. So just at that level alone there is significant work remaining to be done.
About 90 percent of coalition operations now are partnered with Afghan forces, and Afghan forces are in the lead more than 40 percent of the time, he said.