US Afghan withdrawal halfway complete
KABUL THIS year’s pullout of 23,000 American troops from Afghanistan is at the halfway mark, US General John Allen, the top commander of US and NATO forces, said in an interview.
It’s a kind of milestone toward wrapping up the US and NATO combat role after a decade in the wartorn nation but Allen cautioned against putting too much emphasis on the US troop drawdown, because the US-led coalition’s campaign is continuing.
Still, Allen said that he knows the clock is ticking on the NATO coalition’s combat mission, which is to end at the close of 2014, just 29 months from now.
In a wide-ranging interview in his office at NATO headquarters 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 summer’s coalition operations were aimed at pushing insurgents farther from population centres, 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 haven’t even recruited the whole Afghan national security force. That’s not going to happen for another couple months, but by October 1, we hope to be at 352,000,” he said. “We don’t 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.
“We want to get that number higher, and that will come from battalion and higher units being able to take the lead with respect to planning,” he said.
“Planning is really the hallmark of any large military formation, and it’s typically a weakness in new formations and new armies. So we are putting a lot of effort into teaching them how to plan, execute, recover from the mission and then recock and go back out again.” By the end of this year and into next year, Allen would like to see 5,500 personnel working in police and army advisory teams, but now the mission has 20 percent fewer advisers than it seeks.
“I don’t know if we will make up all of that,” he said, “but it’s an ongoing request and I don’t miss an opportunity to emphasise that we really do need these folks.”