AFGHANISTAN: U.S. Commander Sees Afghans Filling Gaps During Drawdown
Beginning the End Game
The top commander of NATO-led forces in Afghanistan says Afghan National Forces (ANF) will fill in the gaps left by U.S. troops as they begin withdrawing later this year after more than a decade of war.
“It’s not our intention to cede the ground [already secured] to the Taliban,” U.S. Marine Corps Gen. John Allen told a Pentagon press briefing today (May 23).
Allen, the commander of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan, said 23,000 U.S. combat and support troops – part of a surge to suppress the Taliban and al Qaeda fighters and break their longtime hold on parts of the country – will begin leaving the country later this year.
That will leave 65,000 U.S. troops in country. Allen couldn’t say how many of them would have to stay until December 2014 when ISAF turns over full responsibility for Afghanistan’s security to the Afghans. “There’s no number out there right now,” Allen said, adding that he will have to make a series of assessments in coming months and report back to the White House.
Meanwhile, the ANF will fill in behind departing U.S. troops in East and Southwest Afghanistan, the ISAF commander said. Coalition forces are increasingly turning over leadership responsibilities to the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police.
At the recently ended NATO summit in Chicago, leaders agreed on a road map for drawing down operations in Afghanistan. President Barack Obama said at the conclusion that NATO is committed to bringing the war in Afghanistan “to a responsible end.” Afghan troops will take the lead on all combat missions by the middle of next year. Most troops are expected to be out of the country by December 31, 2014. The troops that stay behind after that will be trainers and advisers.
In the interim, Allen said, “we’re going to need combat power” and “not just U.S. Forces,” after the drawdown begins. While longtime NATO members such as the U.S., Britain, Germany, Italy, France, Canada and the Netherlands have provided the bulk of troops to ISAF, recent NATO members like Poland and Romania and non-member countries like Australia, Georgia and Sweden have sent sizeable troop contingents although several – like France, Canada and the Netherlands — have withdrawn or are in the process of withdrawing their troops before the end of 2014.
Allen noted that the traditional Afghan fighting season will start soon and “some significant dynamics” will occur during that period including month-long fast of Ramadan, which starts in July.