NATO troops are scaling back joint operations with their Afghan allies and are focused instead on providing air power and other logistical support as Western combat forces gradually withdraw, a senior US general said Wednesday.
While the US-led coalition once stressed “shoulder-to-shoulder” offensives with Afghan troops, the priority now is to have Afghans carrying out operations on their own with Western forces offering back-up, Major General Larry Nicholson told reporters.
“We are now unpartnering from ANSF (Afghan National Security Forces),” said Nicholson, deputy chief of staff for operations for the NATO force.
“I call it tough love.”
Afghan army and police had improved markedly but still needed help from US-led forces with air strikes, artillery fire, helicopter medical evacuations, explosive disposal teams and special vehicles designed to clear roadside bombs, Nicholson said.
NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) was working to train and assist the Afghans to build up those capabilities, he said.
“We will push them as far as we can to be self-sufficient, to take care of their own problems,” he said.
“We look at ourselves as an enabling force.”
The general's comments reflected a concerted effort by the United States and NATO to wrap up the alliance's role in Afghanistan after 11 years of grinding war against the Taliban insurgency.
NATO has pledged to withdraw combat troops by 2015, with the United States planning a small follow-on force. The United States currently has about 66 000 troops on the ground, roughly two-thirds of the ISAF mission.
Nicholson predicted that by the end of 2014, when ISAF troops plan to withdraw, Afghan forces likely will no longer need back-up “enablers” from the coalition with the exception of air strikes.
In the meantime, US and NATO commanders are pressing their Afghan allies to operate independently, he told journalists travelling with Pentagon chief Leon Panetta who arrived in Kabul earlier Wednesday.
“What we say is we want them to see failure, we want them to smell it, we want them taste it, we just don't want them to achieve it,” he said. - Sapa-AFP