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.’’
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.
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