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Top US Commander: US-Afghan Ties Strong Despite Setbacks

March 20, 2012

VOA News

The commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan says ties between coalition and Afghan forces remain strong and that the military campaign is on track, despite recent setbacks.

General John Allen told the U.S. House Armed Services Committee Tuesday that although "there is much hard and deadly work to do...the progress is real and sustainable." He said U.S. and Afghan troops have severely degraded the insurgency and that Afghan forces are ready to take the lead when it comes to security.

Allen's testimony in Washington is the first since a U.S. soldier allegedly killed 16 Afghan villagers during a March 11 shooting spree in Afghanistan's southern Kandahar province. Last month, violent protests erupted throughout Afghanistan following the inadvertent burning of Qurans at a U.S. airbase. Allen said Tuesday that 32 Afghans were killed in those riots.

The commander also said 60 coalition troops have been killed in combat since January, 13 of them "at the hands of what appear to have been Afghan security forces." Allen noted "the last couple of months have been trying," but said the relationship between between coalition and NATO troops remains strong.

NATO is in the process of handing over security control to Afghan troops, with all foreign combat troops set to leave Afghanistan by the end of 2014.

General Allen said Thursday that Afghan security forces have expanded from 276,000 to 330,000 in the last year and will reach their full strength ahead of an October deadline. He said the expansion will allow the remaining 23,000 troops from a U.S. surge to withdraw by September.

U.S. and Afghan officials are negotiating the terms of the pact that would define the U.S. presence in Afghanistan once all American combat troops leave the country.

Afghanistan's vice president on Tuesday reassured Afghans that any strategic partnership deal with the United States will respect the sovereignty of his country.

During a speech in the northern Afghan city of Mazar-e-Sharif, Mohammad Qasim Fahim said a U.S.-Afghan agreement will be based on the interests of both nations.

Two major obstacles to the negotiations have been the transfer of U.S. detention centers to Afghan authorities and night raids conducted by coalition troops.

Earlier this month, U.S. and Afghan officials reached an agreement on the prison issue, giving Afghans control of detainees within six months. Talks are now under way on the issue of night raids.

Also, Afghan Foreign Minister Zalmai Rassoul is in Washington this week for talks with U.S. officials on the strategic deal.

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