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    Governance

    Levin opposes cut in Afghan force size

    WASHINGTON (PAN): President Barack Obama’s nominee for the Central Command (CENCTCOM) chief on Thursday exuded confidence Afghan forces would be capable of taking the lead in nation’s security before the pullout of NATO-led troops.       

     “I think the Afghans will be capable of taking the lead in the prescribed timeline,” General Lloyd Austin, who has been picked as CENTCOM commander, told members of Senate Armed Services Committee during his confirmation hearing.

    Austin said his judgment was based on his recent travel to the country and his interaction with the commander in the field. “As I went around the country, the commanders that I talked to felt the Afghans had developed significant capability and were in the lead in many cases throughout the country...”

    Responding to a question from Carl Levin, chairman of the committee, Austin supported the idea of a large Afghan force. “I think keeping the larger-size force would certainly reassure the Afghans.  It would also reassure our NATO allies that we remain committed.”

    Levin said the next CENTCOM commander would play an important role in shaping America’s enduring partnership with Afghanistan after 2014.  “I am concerned, however, by plans to reduce the Afghan National Security Forces by a third, starting in 2015, from 352,000 to 230,000 by 2017.” 

    He believed any future reductions in the size of Afghan forces should be based on security conditions in Afghanistan at that time. As Afghan Forces made progress in providing for their country's security, the US should assure them of continued support, he said.

    Levin added progress in Afghanistan remained fragile. “Significant challenges to Afghanistan's long-term stability remain. Among the greatest threats to stability are the safe havens for Afghan insurgents across the Pakistan border, which the government of Pakistan has failed to disrupt or eliminate.”

    In addition, he observed, the major shortcomings of the Afghan government in delivering governance and fighting corruption created political and economic instability that could exacerbate the challenges to the 2014 transition.