Marine General: U.S. Special Forces Will Be in Afghanistan 'For Years' After 2014

Edwin Mora | April 23, 2012 | 5:35pm EDT
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In this Saturday, Oct. 31, 2009 file photo, a member of U.S. special operations forces and an Afghan National Army soldier search for roadside bombs during a joint patrol in Shewan, a former Taliban stronghold in Afghanistan's Farah province. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo, File)

( -- Marine Maj. Gen. John Toolan, who served as a commander in Afghanistan, said on Monday that U.S. special forces and medical personnel as well as some other types of forces will need to stay in Afghanistan "for years" after 2014.

The general’s comments came after it was reported today by the Associated Press that, according to Afghan National Security Adviser Rangin Dadfar Spanta, the United States has agreed to a draft of a strategic pact to help protect Afghanistan for at least a decade after the end of 2014, which is when Afghan forces are expected to take the lead for their own security.

During an event today sponsored by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, D.C., Maj. Gen. Toolan, who recently completed a year as the commander for Regional Command Southwest in Afghanistan, was asked how long will U.S. forces have to be in Afghanistan.

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Maj. Gen. Toolan said: “They’ll have to be in Afghanistan as long as it takes for the Afghan security forces to establish--particularly the police, and I’ll say specifically the police--to establish local security and credibility among the population. They’re progressing, but they’re not there. They’re still several years out."

"But we can lose the security forces if we don’t back them up with medical, with special operations forces, with fire, with intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance,” Maj. Gen. Toolan said. “We need to keep those assets and resources there for years after 2014. They would feel really bad and they will lose confidence if we walked out in 2014 and took all our medical support with us.”

(AP Photo/US Marines)

He later said that the ANSF (Afghan National Security Forces), which includes the Afghan National Army (ANS) and Afghan National Police (ANP), will need support from a “residual” U.S. force beyond 2014.

“The only way to honor those sacrifices [in Afghanistan] is to stay the course and to see this thing through,” said the general.  “We’ve got a deadline, 2014. We’ve established it. We’re drawing down. We’re doing everything the president mandated and we need to see it through, I believe.”

“There will be some residual forces that will stay past 2014. As I mentioned, I think we need to provide medical support, we need to continue to provide special operation forces for mentoring their special operations forces,” he said.

“So we need to stay beyond to 2014, but otherwise we’re coming out of there.”

President Barack Obama meets with Afghan President Hamid Karzai in the Oval Office of the White House. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Maj. Gen. Toolan mentioned that the progress attained under his command in Helmand province, historically one of the deadliest areas for U.S. forces, could be reversed, in a war that is now more than 10 years old.

“It was painful, while I was there I drew down 3,000 Marines within three months and we’re drawing down from approximately 19,000 to 7,000 by September,” he said.  “It’s a huge change. I didn’t know when I was going in there that I was coming down that steep. But you know, I guess we were the product or victims of our own success … but as I said earlier, [this] is not irreversible.”

The general also said that the largest threat to the effectiveness of the ANSF in establishing stability in the country is “corruption.”

Right now, Afghan forces are “taking charge and they’re taking ownership and they’re taking responsibility, so the variables that exist that will distort and disrupt that whole process is corruption,” said Maj. Gen. Toolan.  “I think it’s plain and simple and at the central government as well as the local level and I believe that. If I didn’t believe that I wouldn’t, I’d have a hard time saying that we’ve had success in Afghanistan.”

Nonetheless, he said,  “I believe that the Afghans will be ready to stand up against the threats that exist there.”

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