NATO force in Afghanistan is under to new command

KABUL, Afghanistan — Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr. took over Sunday as probably last U.S. commander in Afghanistan with the job of ending America’s longest war as insurgents continue to challenge the U.S.-backed Afghan government.

Dunford, a four-star Marine officer, arrives as the U.S.-led NATO coalition has dismantled three-quarters of its 800 bases and watches to see whether the Afghan security forces it trained can keep the Taliban insurgency at bay.

A ceremony inside the coalition’s compound in Kabul marked the end of the 19-month tenure of Gen. John R. Allen, whose command was marred by a rash of deadly “insider” attacks by Afghan forces against their U.S. and NATO trainers and strained relations with Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

In remarks tinged with emotion Sunday, Allen pointed to significant progress, including the growth of the Afghan security forces, an increase in Afghan-led military operations, a sharp reduction in civilian casualties and the withdrawal of about 35,000 U.S. troops.

“This is victory,” Allen said. “This is what winning looks like, and we should not shrink from using those words.”

Allen was cleared of wrongdoing last month in a Pentagon inquiry into emails he exchanged with a woman who was linked to the sex scandal that forced the resignation of CIA Director David Petraeus. He has been nominated to lead NATO forces in Europe.

By replacing Allen with Dunford, the respected but low-key assistant commandant of the Marine Corps, President Barack Obama hopes to repair relations with Karzai, to ensure a long-term security deal under which several thousand U.S. troops remain in Afghanistan beyond the withdrawal of combat forces next year.

Embracing Allen at the ceremony, Dunford stressed continuity in the mission.

“What’s not changed is the will of this coalition,” he said. “What’s not changed is the growing capability of our Afghan partners.”

Obama is expected to spell out plans for the troop withdrawal and a post-2014 U.S. military presence in Afghanistan as soon as his State of the Union message on Tuesday. While White House officials have said it’s possible that no U.S. troops would remain in Afghanistan, Pentagon officials want to keep a residual force that would focus on counterterrorism and supporting Afghan forces.

Dunford will have a key seat at the table as U.S. officials try to negotiated the security agreement, which will hinge on assurances from Afghan leaders that they won’t release prisoners currently in U.S. custody and will guarantee U.S. troops immunity from prosecution in Afghan courts. The failure to reach an immunity guarantee was a main reason why no U.S. troops remained in Iraq after the war ended there.

About 65,000 U.S. troops remain in Afghanistan, down from a high of 100,000. Despite flagging U.S. support for the war, military commanders argue that removing the remaining troops precipitously could cause Afghan security forces to collapse.

In his Senate confirmation hearing in November, Dunford offered no prescriptions for troop levels but cautioned against withdrawing too quickly, saying it could destabilize the region.

U.S. officials recently estimated that a residual American force could number from 6,000 to 9,000 troops – fewer than the 15,000 senior military commanders had wanted. Experts say Dunford will be charged with figuring out how such a force could achieve U.S. strategic aims.

More in Local News

Mayor tries new tactic to curb fire department overtime

Stephanson says an engine won’t go into service when the only available staff would be on overtime.

Jamie Copeland is a senior at Cedar Park Christian Schools’ Mountlake Terrace campus. She is a basketball player, ASB president, cheerleader and, of course, a Lion. (Dan Bates / The Herald)
Cedar Park Christian senior stepping up to new challenges

Jamie Copeland’s academics include STEM studies, leadership, ASB activities, honor society.

Cheering families welcome Kidd, Shoup after 6 months at sea

“I get back Daddy back today,” said one homemade sign at Naval Station Everett.

Paine Field fire chief will be allowed to retire

In his letter, the airport director noted Jeff Bohnet was leaving while under investigation.

Stanwood man, 33, killed in crash near Marysville

Speed may have been a factor, the sheriff’s department said.

County plans to sue to recoup costs from ballot drop-box law

A quarter-million dollars could be spent adding 19 ballot boxes in rural areas.

Woman, 47, found dead in Marysville jail cell

She’d been in custody about four days after being arrested on warrants, police said.

Lynnwood man allegedly cuts Marysville’s 911 dispatch wires

The man reportedly told police he intended to trade the wires for drugs.

Ian Terry / The Herald Westbound cars merge from Highway 204 and 20th Street Southeast onto the trestle during the morning commute on Thursday, March 30 in Lake Stevens. Photo taken on 03302017
Pay a toll on US 2 trestle? 10,000 say no on social media

A GOP lawmaker’s chart shows theoretical toll rates of up to $6.30 to cross the trestle one way.

Most Read