Panetta, MacKay Look Ahead in Afghanistan Effort

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)