Afghan army a powerful force: Pentagon chief
KABUL (Pajhwok): US defence secretary Ash Carter called Afghanistan's army “a powerful force in their own right” on Sunday when he wrapped up two days in southern Kandahar province by consulting with US and Afghan commanders.
Carter declined to say whether the advisory work at the Kandahar Airfield will wind up this summer unless President Barack Obama alters his plan for ending the US military presence.
"I'm not prepared to share conclusions except with him (Obama), when I reach them," Carter said in a question-and-answer session with reporters at the base.
Carter, who started as Pentagon chief just last week, said he was impressed by progress in professionalising the Afghan army and police. "The Afghan security forces have become a powerful force in their own right, and good partners in their own way," he said.
Cater is preparing recommendations to Obama about the future of the American military presence in Afghanistan. On Saturday, he met with President Ashraf Ghani and said afterward that Obama is considering whether to slow the pace of US troop withdrawals this year and next.
The US now has about 10,000 troops in Afghanistan, including about 2,000 training and advising in Kandahar to consolidate gains in the development and also to carry out counterterrorism raids on remnants of Al Qaeda and associated extremist groups.
Earlier, Carter addressed a gathering of about 100 US soldiers at Kandahar and thanked them for their work with the Afghan army. He said their advisory effort "is now becoming the heart of" the US military mission in Afghanistan, which also includes hunting down remnants of Al Qaeda.
Carter made clear that whatever course of action he recommends to Obama, it will be based on the goal of preserving the security gains that have been achieved during 13 years of costly combat.
"When our presence here is reduced to something much smaller than today, we want to make sure that the Afghans themselves are able to preserve the environment which our forces have created over the last few years - one of relative security and stability," he said. "They can't do that without you."
The new defence secretary was briefed on American military operations at Kandahar airfield as part of what he calls a listening tour of the war zone.
On his second day in Afghanistan, Carter flew to Kandahar from Kabul, where he had held a series of talks with Afghan government leaders and American military commanders.
Kandahar is home to the Afghan Army’s 205th Corps, elements of which are involved in a major offensive against the Taliban in neighboring Helmand province. US special operations forces also use the airfield at Kandahar to launch counterterrorism operations.
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