WASHINGTON - US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on Friday said the surge troops ordered into Afghanistan by President Obama three years ago had accomplished "its objectives of reversing the Taliban momentum on the battlefield and dramatically increase the size and capability of the Afghan national security forces".
"It is important to underscore that even as our surge troops return home, there are roughly 68,000 Americans who remain in a tough fight in Afghanistan, alongside their NATO and Afghan partners. We are a nation at war," Panetta said in a statement after the last of the surge troops left Afghanistan.
"This week, the ongoing effort in Afghanistan marked an important milestone. The United States military has completed drawing down the surge forces President Obama committed in December of 2009, reducing our presence by 33,000 troops on schedule," he said.
"As we reflect on this moment, it is an opportunity to recognize that the surge accomplished its objectives of reversing Taliban momentum on the battlefield, and dramatically increased the size and capability of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF)," he said.
This growth has allowed the US and its ISAF Coalition partners to begin the process of transition to Afghan security lead, which will soon extend across every province and more than 75 percent of the Afghan population, he said. "At the same time, we have struck enormous blows against al Qaeda's leadership, consistent with our core goal of disrupting, dismantling and defeating al Qaeda and denying it a safe-haven," he added.
Earlier in the day, US Senator John McCain said that in light of the growing trend of 'insider attacks' that have killed US and allied troops in Afghanistan, there is need to halt the draw-down of US forces to evaluate the overall strategy, including the President's withdrawal plan.
"This strategic pause should be used to determine what, if any, changes we should make in order to achieve our goals in Afghanistan. I have said that no option should be taken off the table in such a discussion, including a more rapid withdrawal of U.S. troops," he said.
"However, I continue to believe that would be the worst possible course of action, because so many of the problems we are now encountering in Afghanistan can be traced back to the Administration's repeated attempts to cut corners in this conflict – most of all, the President's consistent disregard of the advice of his own military leaders to keep more U.S. troops in the fight and to withdraw them at a slower pace that would put our mission at less risk," McCain said. (Pajhwok)