News - Afghanistan
Nato's top commander in Afghanistan told a US Congress hearing on Tuesday that the transfer of security to Afghan forces was the "linchpin" of the US-led strategy in Afghanistan, not simply a "way out" of the country during a presentation which confirmed there would be no early withdrawal of troops.
General John Allen, a US Marine four-star general in command of the international forces in Afghanistan, said that he remained optimistic about eventual success but that it was too early to begin shifting forces from battles in the south to the country's eastern provinces.
He said he would not recommend further US troop reductions until after the Afghan summer when he could review the results of the next six months of fighting, and the current "surge" forces had departed - leaving 68,000 American troops remaining here.
But he repeatedly said that by the end of next year, Afghan forces would have taken over primary responsibility for operations across the country, allowing Nato's combat role to be finished by the end of 2014, as currently scheduled.
He acknowledged the struggles involved in handing over complete security control to Afghan forces, including the US-led commando night raids that US commanders say are critical to the war effort. These are the subject of intense negotiation, he said, nevertheless, twelve Afghan strike teams are being trained to lead them.
Ultimately, he said, as the Afghans take control of operations, the requirements of the Afghan Constitution would need to be respected.
"Throughout history, insurgencies have seldom been defeated by foreign forces," Allen said. "Instead, they have been ultimately beaten by indigenous forces. In the long run, our goals can only be achieved and then secured by Afghan forces. Transition, then, is the linchpin of our strategy, not merely the ‘way out.' "
Allen said that Afghan security forces were growing stronger, having reached 330,000, and that their buildup remained on track.
"I can tell you, unequivocally, three things. First, we remain on track to ensure that Afghanistan will no longer be a safe haven for al-Qaida and will no longer be terrorised by the Taliban," he said in his testimony before the House Armed Services Committee.
"Second, as a coalition, ... we are well along in our progress to meet our 2010 commitments to transition security lead to the Afghan national security forces by December 2014."
"Third, our troops know the difference they are making, and the enemy feels it every day."
But he confirmed that the presence of safe havens in Pakistan continues to be a threat.
"As you know, the nature of the Taliban in those safe havens differs, varies according to where they are geographically."
"I believe that, in the south, the southern Taliban elements out of the Quetta Shura Taliban - their momentum has been successfully thwarted both by Isaf forces and the forces of the ANSF," he said.
"It is in the east where I spend a great deal of my time focusing on the Haqqani Network and on the Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan and other of the Taliban elements, the Commander Nazir Group in Paktika, the Haqqani Network in North Waziristan."