HALIFAX, Nova Scotia, Nov. 18, 2011 — The way ahead in Afghanistan was among the topics covered in a meeting here today between Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta and Canadian Defense Minister Peter G. MacKay, the North American defense leaders said at a news conference.
Panetta and MacKay met in conjunction with the Halifax International Security Forum.
In Lisbon, Portugal, a year ago, Panetta noted, NATO’s leaders committed to continuing to work to reduce the alliance’s combat presence in Afghanistan by the end of 2014.
The secretary wouldn’t put a timetable on the transition to an advise and assist role in Afghanistan, but said Marine Corps Gen. John R. Allen, commander of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force, would outline a campaign toward that end.
With more Afghan provinces expected to turn over to Afghan security responsibility next month, Panetta said, Afghan forces will be in the lead for security for more than half of the nation’s population.
“So we’re moving in the right direction,” the secretary said. “And as we do that, obviously, we’re trying to get the Afghan army [and] the Afghan police to assume more responsibilities with regard to combat operations.
“But this is going to take a transition period,” he continued. “I would not assign a particular date or time frame for that. That’s going to depend an awful lot on General Allen, working with ISAF, to determine how best to make the transition from a combat role to an advise and assist role, but there have been no decisions regarding a time frame at this point.”
MacKay noted that he returned to Canada last week from Afghanistan, where he met with Allen. Canada has about 900 trainers working in and around the Afghan capital of Kabul as part of the multinational effort to prepare Afghanistan’s security forces to provide security throughout their nation by the end of 2014.
“We are significantly down the road from where we were even a year ago,” MacKay said. “To that extent, the numbers of the Afghan national security force — both police and military — have swelled to more than 300,000.
“The focus is now on professionalizing and enabling those forces,” he continued, “to give them that firm backing that they need to start conducting independent operations, taking over control of various provinces, which is done in a staged fashion.”
MacKay expressed pride in Canada’s contributions in Afghanistan and the results that effort has achieved so far.
“Canada has a lot to bring to this effort,” he said. “Many of the soldiers who are taking part in this training mission have combat experience.” Canadian forces, he noted, played an important role in the volatile Kandahar province at a particularly difficult time in the war.
“They held the fort in the most difficult part of the country at the most critical time,” MacKay said. “And the Afghans have been very quick to acknowledge that.”
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)