NEW DELHI, (AFP) – The US military’s top officer said on Thursday that it was “reasonable” to expect Afghan forces to take charge of security from foreign troops by 2014, as promised by President Hamid Karzai.
Admiral Mike Mullen, speaking to reporters on his plane before landing in New Delhi, said he supported the Afghan president’s efforts to present his country with a timetable for taking over from the NATO-led force.
“He as a leader has to send a message to his people that this is what we’re shooting for,” Mullen said.
“Right now that seems pretty reasonable to me and I’m ok with that,” the admiral said, referring to the 2014 target.
Karzai first set 2014 as a goal for a security handover in his inauguration speech last year, and this week he won backing for his blueprint from dozens of countries at an international conference in Kabul.
The timeline for a security transition carries no binding legal authority, but the United States and its allies are pushing Kabul to build up Afghan security forces to pave the way for a withdrawal of NATO-led troops.
Karzai’s road map also calls for curbing corruption and forging reconciliation with insurgents. But Mullen cautioned that talks with the Taliban could only be successful once coalition and Afghan forces shift the balance on the battlefield.
“I think we’ve got be in a position of strength,” he said. “We’re just not there yet.”
He said he remained optimistic about the prospects of gaining the upper hand against the insurgency in coming months, citing the US experience in Iraq, where he said American forces turned around the war in an 18-month period.
Although the Afghan campaign was in its ninth year, the US-led war effort had been neglected and only received sufficient troops and resources in the last two years, he said.
The Taliban, overthrown in a 2001 US-led invasion, control large swathes of the south and have put up stiff resistance amid a troop build-up of 150,000 US and NATO troops.
US President Barack Obama has set a deadline of July 2011 as the start of a gradual draw-down of US troops from Afghanistan, though the pace of the withdrawal has yet to be determined