Although the Afghan security forces are almost at their full strength of 352,000, persistent violence and insider attacks against Americans and other foreign forces have raised concerns about whether they are ready to take on the fight by themselves.
Dunford has to deal with "navigating the drawdown, keeping a sense of calm before (Afghan) presidential elections" and maintaining progress against insider attacks, said Michael O'Hanlon from the Brookings Institution in Washington. "Then, of course, there's the issue of gradually working more closely with Pakistan."
NATO decided on the 2014 deadline at a 2010 summit in Lisbon and reinforced it at the alliance's meeting in Chicago last year. The other decisions were to continue training and funding Afghan troops after the withdrawal, and leaving a residual force to hunt down al-Qaida and other terrorist groups.
It remains unclear when the remaining 66,000 U.S. troops would return home, or how many American soldiers will remain after 2014.
Much depends on the U.S. negotiating a bilateral security agreement with the Afghan government that includes the contentious issue of immunity from Afghan prosecution for any U.S. forces that would remain in Afghanistan after 2014. Karzai has said he will put any such decision in the hands of a council of Afghan elders, known as a Loya Jirga.
Although Dempsey said earlier in the week that the United States had plans to leave a residual force, a failure to strike a deal on immunity would torpedo any security agreement and lead to a complete pullout of U.S. forces after 2014 — as it did in post-war Iraq. It is widely believed that no NATO-member nation would allow its troops to remain after 2014 to train, or engage in counterterrorism activities, without a similar deal.
Allen, 59, of Warrenton, Virginia, was the longest serving commander of U.S. and coalition troops in Afghanistan so far. Nearly two dozen generals have commanded troops from the United States and other nations in the coalition since the American invasion in late 2001 — with six U.S. generals, including Dunford, running both commands in the past five years alone.
Allen has been nominated to lead NATO forces in Europe after being exonerated in a Pentagon investigation of questionable email exchanges with a Florida woman linked to the sex scandal that led CIA Director David Petraeus to resign.
Follow Patrick Quinn on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PatrickAQuinn
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