Departing US general says Afghan withdrawal preparations on track
A departing United States general said Monday that troop withdrawal preparations in Afghanistan were on the right track but the pull-out of international personnel should match the capacity building of Afghan security forces.
The handover of security responsibility from international to Afghan forces is planned to start this month from seven areas including Kabul and the volatile southern city of Lashkar Gah.
"I am confident that the withdrawal will be all right now. It's about capacity building and downsizing - we have to match those things," said David Rodriguez, the outgoing deputy commander of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).
"We are in the right trajectory. With great leaders here, we will continue to do well."
Around 97,000 US personnel along with 40,000 other NATO soldiers are currently deployed in Afghanistan. Last month, US President Barack Obama announced the withdrawal of 33,000 US troops by the end of September 2012.
"Progress in building up the Afghan national security forces is a step-by-step process and the international troops will keep it moving as fast as possible," Rodriguez said.
Efforts to combat the Taliban insurgency that started after the ouster of the group from Kabul in 2001 in a US-led invasion are making some "fragile and reversible" gains, Afghan and NATO officials have said.
"We need to continue to strengthen the gains and continue to expand the security areas for the Afghan people," Rodriguez said, speaking briefly to reporters just before boarding a plane to leave Kabul.