AP Interview: US Gen.: New offensive hits Haqqanis
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — The U.S.-led coalition has unleashed a new offensive against one of Afghanistan's most lethal militant networks and plans to ramp up operations next year along the border with Pakistan to better secure the Afghan capital before the American drawdown gathers steam, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan said Wednesday.
Marine Gen. John Allen told The Associated Press that the "high-intensity, sensitive" operation that began in recent days was focused on the Haqqani group, a Pakistan-based militant network with ties to the Taliban and al-Qaida. The U.S. has been urging the Pakistanis to clamp down on the Haqqani fighters who are attacking Afghan and coalition forces and have been blamed for most of the high-profile attacks in the heart of Kabul.
Allen would not discuss details of the operation, which began just days ago, saying only: "Every now and again, one of these organizations that has been able to manifest itself on this side of the border is going to have to get some special attention and that's what's happening now."
In the wide-ranging interview, Allen also told The AP that the process of handing off security to Afghan forces was going to move faster than initially planned. Afghan President Hamid Karzai wants the Afghan army and police to be in the lead in protecting and defending the nation by the end of 2014.
Allen said that while most of the first 10,000 American troops that President Barack Obama ordered withdrawn from Afghanistan by the end of the year will be from support units, roughly one-third will be from combat forces — although not from hotspot areas in south and east Afghanistan.
"Some of the combat forces are going to come out of the north and west," Allen said in his office at the heavily fortified coalition headquarters in Kabul.
Allen said the U.S. would be leaving medical and medevac units, mine-clearance troops and special operations and control personnel in the north and west to support German and Italian troops stationed there.
The 10,000 troops in the first drawdown include two National Guard reserve units; one Army infantry battalion from an area of Afghanistan yet to be determined; one Marine infantry battalion deployed in the south; and military personnel working in headquarters operations and support units.
"We are thinning so one person will now do the job of two people or we'll decide that we're not going to do that job anymore," he said, adding that some of the jobs can be done from the United States.
He acknowledged that some civilian contractors would be hired to pick up the slack, but that "it's not going to be a wholesale replacement."
To satisfy Obama's mandate to withdraw another 23,000 U.S. forces by Sept. 30 of next year, many more combat units will be tapped to leave, he said.