US and NATO officials are claiming that Afghan forces could soon start taking charge of security in large portions of northern and western Afghanistan, in preparation the fuller transition ostensibly set for 2014. After the second phase of the transition begins in December and January, they say, 40 to 50 percent of Afghans will be living in areas with Afghan forces in charge of security.
But it was only last month that Lt. Gen. William Caldwell, the US Commander responsible for training those Afghan forces, said that not a single Afghan army battalion can operate without assistance from US or allied units. Out of approximately 180 Afghan National Army battalions, only two operate “independently,” but he qualified by conceding that even those units rely on daily US support.
Additionally, pockets of Afghan forces regularly commit human rights abuses and the attrition rate is very high, with Afghan police and soldiers quitting every month. Caldwell told Wired’s Danger Room in June that the Afghans will need U.S. training until as late as 2017.
The last attempt at such a coordinated transition occurred in July, but ended up being largely symbolic in nature, especially since US and NATO forces were “on call” in case of violence. Insurgents quickly targeted areas where US and NATO forces receded, trying to derail the transition, which is consistent with the al-Qaeda strategy to support Taliban attacks against NATO in order to sustain the US occupation as long as possible. Keeping US/NATO forces embroiled in the Afghan war not only serves to bleed out American resources, it is also the greatest generator of extremist recruitment.
The official claims from Western sources about an impending transition to Afghan control are likely to be for public consumption in an upcoming election season. Serious US and NATO officials have repeatedly disputed the 2014 date for withdrawal, promising an enduring military presence, perhaps well into the 2020s.