Afghan Forces Improved Faster Than Expected: Gen. Allen
KABUL — The top commander of U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan believes government security forces have improved faster than expected and will be ready to take the lead in the 11-year-old war against the Taliban when foreign combat forces take a back seat this spring.
Marine Gen. John Allen told The Associated Press that the main job over the next two years for the International Assistance Force — as the NATO-led troops in Afghanistan are called — will be to advise, train and build the capabilities needed for Afghan forces to go it completely alone.
They will face their first test when the fighting season gets underway in the late spring and summer. During the harsh Afghan winter, snow often blocks roads, and fighting dies down.
The Afghan security forces, which have nearly reached their full strength of 352,000, still need much work to become an effective and self-sufficient fighting machine, but a vast improvement in their abilities was behind a decision to accelerate the timetable for putting them in the lead nationwide, Allen said.
President Obama announced earlier this month that the Afghans would take over this spring instead of late summer — a decision that could allow the speedier withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan.
The Afghan troops “are further along in their capabilities than we had anticipated, and I’m very comfortable frankly with their being in the lead in 2013,” Allen said in a recent interview ahead of his departure. “This is an acknowledgment of their capabilities.”
The general, who has led the military coalition for 19 months, is leaving Afghanistan on Feb. 10. The White House said it would nominate him to become the head of NATO forces in Europe. If confirmed by the Senate, Allen would succeed Navy Adm. James Stavridis in the NATO post.
He would not comment on how quickly the remaining 66,000 U.S. troops would return home, or how many American soldiers will remain after the end of 2014, when all foreign combat troops are to leave Afghanistan — saying Obama will make that decision.
“We are advising now, and for the foreseeable future and until the latter part of the spring we will be advising at the battalion level,” Allen said, adding that the advising would progressively move up to larger formations until the work was completed. “This is in conjunction with the drawdown of our own forces and in a very measured way, in a way that the Afghans are familiar with and we are able to predict we will eventually move up to the corps level.”
Afghan troops already have taken the lead for security on territory holding 85 percent of the country’s population of around 30 million. (AP)