By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May 21, 2012 – Coalition forces will fulfill their missions in Afghanistan, Marine Corps Gen. John R. Allen said yesterday.
Allen, commander of the International Security Assistance Force, spoke to reporters at the beginning of the NATO summit in Chicago.
Though French President Francois Hollande has announced he will pull his nation’s troops from Afghanistan this year, the general said he still expects to be able to accomplish the mission in Afghanistan and does not anticipate a rush for the exits. “We have the capacity, using our current force structure, to ensure that there is no degradation in security with respect to any decisions that might be made,” he said.
Though the alliance and its partners have made tremendous strides in Afghanistan, Allen said, he expects stiff Taliban resistance in this year’s campaign.
His first priority, he said, is to keep the momentum going in the right direction and to keep the pressure on the Taliban.
A second priority, Allen said, is to accelerate the training and capabilities of the Afghan national security forces. A third priority “is to set the conditions for, and to support the process of transition,” he said, noting that the three priorities work together.
“The actions that we are undertaking with respect to the campaign in this coming campaign season are supported by the continued build of the Afghan national security forces,” he said. Afghan security forces will top out at 352,000 troops, and will reach that mark ahead of schedule, he added.
“We will continue to train and equip and, ultimately, to field the entire [Afghan national security force] by the end of 2013,” he said. “So we’ll be approaching a key crossover point in the campaign in 2013.”
NATO calls this point “Milestone 2013,” and Afghan troops and police will move into security lead of the counterinsurgency campaign, Allen said. Coalition personnel will continue to work with Afghan forces and provide support.
“ISAF forces will be supporting that move into the lead, recognizing and noting, however, that … combat operations will continue in the country throughout the period of the remainder of the ISAF mission, which will conclude on the 31st of December 2014,” the general said.
Allen highlighted agreements between the United States and Afghanistan, especially the strategic partnership agreement that President Barack Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai signed last month. That agreement, the general said, set the conditions for negotiations to begin in the near future on a bilateral security agreement that will define the size and contribution of the United States, over time, to Afghan security.
Over the summer, the United States will reduce the number of troops in Afghanistan by 23,000, the general said, adding that he anticipates no problem in doing that.