By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
TAMPA, Fla., June 18, 2013 – Afghan forces formally assuming the lead in security operations throughout their country today and U.S. and coalition forces continuing their drawdowns in Afghanistan is opening new opportunities for the United States to engage more broadly, not just in Afghanistan, but across the region, the top policy and planning officer at U.S. Central Command said.
The U.S. commitment to Afghanistan will continue long after combat operations end in December 2014, Marine Corps Maj. Gen. William D. Beydler, Centcom’s director of strategy, plans and policy, told American Forces Press Service at the command headquarters at MacDill Air Force Base here.
“We are not leaving at the end of 2014,” he said. “The fact of the matter is, we are reducing our combat presence, but our presence from a train-and-advise standpoint is only going to get better and more focused along those lines. … We are transitioning to an enduring presence that is acceptable to the Afghans and that allows them to continue the progress they have made.”
With a post-2014 security agreement still being negotiated, Beydler said it’s not yet clear what the bilateral relationship will look like after the transition.
“That will largely be determined by the Afghans,” he said. “They obviously are going to have a large say in where [U.S. forces] might be based, what our interactions will be, what the legal implications will be, and what the support arrangement will be.”
The goal, Beydler said, is to provide an enduring presence in Afghanistan that can continue to train and advise the increasingly capable, 350,000-strong Afghan National Security Forces.
That capability, highlighted during a ceremony today as NATO officially handed lead security responsibilities for the remaining areas of Afghanistan to the Afghan forces, will continue to grow over time, he said.
As Afghan forces take the planning and operational lead during the current fighting season and prepare for security challenges of next spring’s elections, the training emphasis is increasingly focused on building capability in the aviation, logistics and supply, maneuver and fires arenas, he said.
“That will take place over the next few years,” Beydler said. “And we will be there, supporting that as it comes into full operational capability.”
Meanwhile, Centcom is working closely with the NATO and the International Security Assistance Force commander in Afghanistan, Marine Corps Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., to support the operational and tactical-level transition, Beydler said.
Bases are being closed as operations consolidate. Equipment is leaving Afghanistan -- some through Pakistan, some through the Northern Distribution Network that stretches through North and Central Asia and Russia, and some by air. Troop numbers are drawing down, freeing up manpower to engage in other parts of the world.
As this unfolds, Beydler cited new opportunities to increase military-to-military engagement more widely across the Centcom area of responsibility that stretches from Egypt to Kazakhstan.
The United States currently engages with 18 of the 20 regional nations -- all but Iran and Syria, he said.
“The perception seems to be that we are withdrawing from the region, centered around the fact that we are reducing combat operations and moving to a stabilized presence in Afghanistan between now and 2014,” Beydler said. “But it is a misnomer to think that we are going to walk out at the end of 2014, shut the door, and that there is not going to be anything left behind.
“We will continue to engage not only in Afghanistan, but across the entire Centcom [area of responsibility],” he continued. “We will be engaged financially. We will be engaged from a training standpoint. We will be engaged from an exercise standpoint. The fact is we will continue to be engaged across the spectrum. And some areas and in some ways, we will be able to be more engaged than ever before, because after 10 or 12 years of sustained combat operations, we will have the capacity to do so.”