Gen. John Allen met with the media at the Pentagon yesterday, wrapping up a whirlwind week in the U.S. highlighted by the NATO summit in Chicago.
To say he took some hardball questions would be an understatement.
With the drawdown of U.S. forces in Afghanistan underway, Allen was asked how troops will be withdrawn, whether he was concerned about force protection as troops are pulled and if the U.S.’s thorny relationship with Pakistan could undermine the war effort.
Allen countered by saying he’s confident progress has been, but acknowledged the relationship with Pakistan needs serious work, especially after miscommunication and mistrust resulted in U.S. forces killing 24 Pakistani troops in a cross-border incident in November.
“Pakistan is always going to be a 1,500-mile border along… Afghanistan. And, trust has been a problem,” he said. “And so in order to overcome many of these issues, we’re going to have to build trust again.”
A transcript of the press conference is here. Of note to Marines, Allen said coalition commander want to make the drawdown a “complementary effort” involving both Afghan National Security Forces and the International Security Assistance Force he leads.
“It is very much an ISAF and ANSF complementary effort, so that areas which were covered by, let’s say, Marines, for example — as those forces begin to thin out, what you’ll begin to see are Afghan forces begin to fill in behind them,” Allen said. “And those Afghan forces would have advisers in them, for example. And they would be tied to the remaining Marine units so that there is still a synergy that can be accomplished.”
Allen followed by saying that “it is not our intention to cede the ground ultimately to the Taliban.” That seems like an obvious statement, but it’s still a question mark whether Afghan forces can hold the ground U.S. forces have worked so hard to win.
It’s also a question mark whether the Taliban is strong enough to win it back as 23,000 U.S. troops are withdrawn from Afghanistan by October, the general said.
“We’re going to watch that very closely,” he said. “Our intent is, of course, to use the ANSF forces both in the east and in the southwest to fill in behind the forces that we’ll be drawing down in the… regular course of recovering the 23,000. But at the same time, you’re seeing now the introduction of our advisory teams into the Afghan formations, which give them the capacity to operate right alongside ours in this continued counterinsurgency.”
Many of those Marine advisory teams already are operating in Helmand province, said Maj. Gen. Charles Gurganus, the top Marine commander in Afghanistan, in an interview at Camp Leatherneck last month.