Nato force gets new chief in Afghanistan

Nato force gets new chief in Afghanistan

Marine General Joseph Dunford took over as the new and probably last commander of all US and international forces in Afghanistan on Sunday.

The American-led Nato coalition is entering the final stretch of its participation in a war that will have lasted more than 13 years when most foreign combat troops pull out at the end of 2014.

Dunford took over leadership of the International Security Assistance Force, and a smaller but separate detachment of American troops, from Marine Gen John Allen, who had led them for the past 19 months.

“Today is not about change, it’s about continuity,” Dunford told a gathering of coalition military leaders and Afghan officials. “What’s not changed is the growing capability of our Afghan partners, the Afghan national security forces. What’s not changed is our commitment, more importantly, what’s not changed is the inevitability of our success.”

He takes charge at a critical time for President Barack Obama and the military. Nato decided at its 2010 summit in Lisbon to withdraw major combat units, but to continue training and funding Afghan troops and leave a residual force to hunt down al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups.

Gen Martin Dempsey, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, said, “much work lies ahead” for Dunford as he tries to meet those objectives while at the same time withdrawing about 100,000 foreign troops, including 66,000 from the United States.

Dunford, from Boston, Massachusetts, will face serious challenges as he tries to accommodate an accelerated timetable for handing over the lead for security responsibility to Afghan forces this spring — instead of late summer as originally planned.

“I told him our victory here will never be marked by a parade or a point in time on a calendar when victory is declared. This insurgency will be defeated over time by the legitimate and well-trained Afghan forces that are emerging today and who are taking the field in full force this spring,” Allen said.

Although the Afghan security forces are almost at their full strength of 352,000, it is unclear if they are yet ready to take on the fight by themselves.

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