WASHINGTON (AP) — The No. 2 U.S. commander in Afghanistan said Wednesday that U.S. military advisory teams will start deploying to Afghanistan this year to help Afghan combat forces as they take a more prominent role in fighting the Taliban.
The plan described by Lt. Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti envisions U.S. and other international troops beginning to step back from their leading role, so that responsibility for the war is fully in Afghan hands by the end of 2014.
Scaparrotti, who is charge of day-to-day military operations in Afghanistan as commander of the International Security Assistance Force Joint Command, said he is pushing to get more Afghan forces into the lead before the U.S.-led coalition shrinks.
“I’m pressing commanders to put them into the lead as soon as they can,” Scaparrotti told reporters at the Pentagon. “The earlier we get them into the lead, the better we have a metric of just how well they’re doing and we also know better how to improve them.”
Scaparrotti said he is in the early stages of shifting from NATO-led to Afghan-led military operations. He estimated that just 1 percent of Afghan army battalions are able to operate “independently” with help from NATO advisers.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said last week that 2013 will be a decisive year in the transition to Afghan responsibility for the war. He said he hopes that as early as mid-2013, U.S. forces will shift from lead combat role to a support role, while remaining prepared to engage in combat if necessary through 2014.
Asked about Panetta’s remarks, Scaparrotti said he expects that the process of getting the Afghans into the lead combat role will be “pretty far along” by 2013 but “exactly how that will roll” depends on conditions on the ground.
Scaparrotti said further developing the Afghan security forces is his second-highest priority. He said his top priority is to “maintain the momentum” on the battlefield by continuing to pursue the Taliban, especially in what he called the decisive terrain of southern Afghanistan that has been the Taliban’s power base.
“I believe we have the right plan,” he said. “We certainly have the momentum, and we’ve got the resolve to succeed.”
His remarks stand in marked contrast to an assessment published in the private Armed Forces Journal, titled “Truth, Lies and Afghanistan,” in which Army Lt. Col. Daniel Davis accused U.S. military leaders of misleading the public by overstating the degree of progress toward stabilizing Afghanistan.
Davis, who said he spent 12 months in Afghanistan as part of a team assessing troops’ needs and circumstances, wrote that he “witnessed the absence of success on virtually every level.” He said that every place he visited, “the tactical situation was bad to abysmal.”
Asked about Davis’ article, Scaparrotti said, “It’s one person’s view of this,” adding that he remains confident that his own cautiously optimistic view is based on a solid foundation of information and analysis.
He acknowledged that some Afghan weaknesses described by Davis are real. He specifically noted Davis’s first-hand account of an incident in which two Taliban insurgents who had participated in an attack on a U.S. checkpoint in Kandahar province last June were allowed by Afghan policemen to escape the scene. Davis said this is the kind of problem that feeds U.S. troops’ contempt for their Afghan partners.
“I think those things happen,” Scaparrotti said, in part because of the fast pace at which the Afghan army has expanded its ranks.
Despite their weaknesses, the general said, the Afghan forces will prove to be “good enough” to secure their country.
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