WASHINGTON, January 11 (By Carl Schreck for RIA Novosti) – US President Barack Obama said Friday that the US-led coalition in Afghanistan would hand control of security in the war-torn nation to Afghan forces as of Spring 2013, a transition that comes ahead of schedule in Washington’s drawdown of troops in the country.
“Starting this spring, our troops will have a different mission: Training, advising, assisting Afghan forces,” Obama said in the East Room of the White House following meetings with Afghan President Hamid Karzai. “It will be an historic moment and another step toward full Afghan sovereignty.”
The Obama administration is planning to complete its drawdown of the US presence in Afghanistan by the end of 2014, but the president said he could not comment on the number of US troops who might remain in the country after that deadline.
Karzai said he was pleased with the accelerated transition and that Afghan forces were prepared to accept responsibility for protecting civilians.
“The international forces, the American forces, will be no longer present in Afghan villages,” Karzai said. “… The task will be that of the Afghan forces to provide for the Afghan people in security and protection.”
Obama said that while the United States had not achieved everything it might have in Afghanistan “in the best of scenarios,” it had struck a decisive blow against al-Qaeda forces who “viciously murdered” 3,000 Americans in the 9/11 attacks.
“We achieved our central goal—or have come very close to achieving our central goal—which is to de-capacitate al-Qaeda, to dismantle them, to make sure that they can’t attack us again,” Obama said.
National security analysts in Washington expressed skepticism that Afghan forces would be capable of ensuring stability in the country, saying they have garnered little trust among the local population and do not have the resources and training in ancillary aspects of combat, such as logistics and medical care.
“It’s one thing for an Afghan solder to be confident in security when he’s fighting alongside Americans and knows that should he be wounded, he’ll be medevaced out for treatment,” Michael Rubin, a former Pentagon official and a resident scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, told RIA Novosti.
“It’s another thing for that Afghan solder to be motivated to fight when he knows that if he is wounded in combat, he’ll be left there to die,” Rubin added.
The United States currently has 66,000 troops in Afghanistan,
Vanda Felbab-Brown, a counterinsurgency expert at the Brookings Institution, told RIA Novosti on Thursday that the announced accelerated handover to Afghan forces had been on the table recently and comes as no surprise.
But should coalition troop levels dip into the “low thousands,” effective training of their local counterparts will become “very difficult to deliver,” said Felbab-Brown, author of “Aspiration and Ambivalence: Strategies and Realities of Counterinsurgency and State-Building in Afghanistan.”
Retired US Gen. Stanley McChrystal told the New York Times in an interview this week that a radically reduced force size could also lose the local population’s support for US counterterrorism efforts there.
“If you don’t have the support of the Afghan people, there’s no reason for them to be supportive of this,” McChrystal, the former top US commander in Afghanistan, told the Times.