By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, June 18, 2013 - Afghans now are in the lead for security throughout their country, and this inflection point points the way toward a stable nation, the commander of NATO and U.S. forces in Afghanistan said today.
Marine Corps Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr. told Pentagon reporters via a phone hook-up from the Afghan capital of Kabul that the nature of the relationship between Afghanistan and NATO has changed.
Today's achievement of "Milestone 2013" is a long-anticipated development, the general said. U.S., NATO and partner nations have carried the security burden in Afghanistan since 2001. Behind that shield, the Afghan government recruited, equipped and trained soldiers and police to take the security responsibility. Afghan forces took the security job in more and more of the country until today, when they assumed the lead for combat operations throughout the country.
"This is a source of great pride for the Afghan people and the Afghan security forces, and, frankly, it's also a great source of pride for members of the coalition," Dunford said.
American, NATO and partner nations made this day possible, and wounded warriors from the United States, the United Kingdom and Italy were present as Afghan President Hamid Karzai and NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen made the announcement this morning.
The change means U.S., NATO and coalition troops are no longer conducting unilateral operations. There are exceptions, however. NATO-commanded forces do conduct security operations, route clearance operations and operations conducted for retrograde movements, Dunford said. "The only operations that are being planned and conducted against the enemy are being conducted with the Afghans in the lead," he said.
"As we mark Milestone 2013, I'm confident in the overall direction of the campaign," Dunford said. "I believe the Afghans are, in fact, ready to take the lead right now. I believe they'll be able to run and secure the elections in 2014. And I believe we'll be ready to effect full transition in December of 2014."
Sustaining Afghan progress is the focus now, he said. Command and control, air support, intelligence and equipment and instruction for countering improvised explosive devices are crucial capabilities for the Afghan national security forces.
"We're working hard to mature the systems, the processes and institutions that are going to allow the Afghans to become fully self-reliant in the days ahead," Dunford said.
The key to the future is integrating the capabilities of the Afghan army and police across the spectrum, the general said.
The way ahead is charted. Through the end of 2014, coalition forces will continue to work to train, advise and assist Afghan forces. Coalition forces will continue to provide support, including limited medical evacuation for forces and will continue to train and mentor leaders and units.
The Afghan military must medevac their wounded using their own assets. The Afghan air force has Mi-17 helicopters and ground evacuation capabilities. The service is getting smaller cargo-style aircraft that could also help transport wounded troops.
The Afghan military has paid a price for the security lead. In some weeks,
officials said, Afghan forces lose between 100 and 120 troops, and NATO and
Afghan forces are examining the situation. IEDs cause the greatest number of
casualties, and Afghan forces are working to use counter-IED equipment and to
learn the tactics, techniques and procedures to minimize casualties.