Transition to Afghan Control a Prudent Step, Officials Say

WASHINGTON, Feb. 2, 2012 — A tran­si­tion to Afghan secu­ri­ty lead in the coun­try in 2013 is a pru­dent step, but one that doesn’t change the Decem­ber 2014 dead­line for NATO to end com­bat oper­a­tions in the coun­try, Pen­ta­gon offi­cials said today.

Pen­ta­gon spokesman Navy Capt. John Kir­by ampli­fied on remarks Defense Sec­re­tary Leon E. Panet­ta made yes­ter­day on his way to NATO meet­ings in Brus­sels.

In an inter­view with reporters trav­el­ing with him, Panet­ta said the U.S. goal “is to com­plete all of that tran­si­tion in 2013 and then, hope­ful­ly, by mid- to the lat­ter-part of 2013, we’ll be able to make … a tran­si­tion from a com­bat role to a train­ing, advise and assist role.”

The sec­re­tary was speak­ing in broad terms about the process of tran­si­tion in Afghanistan, Kir­by said. Tran­si­tion­ing secu­ri­ty respon­si­bil­i­ty to the Afghans began last year, when NATO trans­ferred secu­ri­ty respon­si­bil­i­ty to Afghan secu­ri­ty forces for sev­en areas. Lat­er in the year, Afghan Pres­i­dent Hamid Karzai chose 11 oth­er areas to begin tran­si­tion to Afghan lead. Afghan army and police forces now have lead respon­si­bil­i­ty for more than half the pop­u­la­tion of the coun­try.

But the tran­si­tion is a mul­ti­step process, Kir­by said, and Panet­ta will be dis­cussing that process with NATO allies in Brus­sels today. The final plan about tran­si­tion and the par­tic­u­lars of the process will be decid­ed in May by heads of state at the NATO sum­mit in Chica­go, he added.

“The sec­re­tary was pret­ty clear that he hopes to tran­si­tion at least the lead for com­bat-type mis­sions to Afghan nation­al secu­ri­ty forces ear­li­er than 2014,” Kir­by said. “We real­ly do believe that … the gains we have made on the ground have allowed us to begin these type of con­ver­sa­tions.”

Kir­by stressed that no deploy­ment sched­ules have changed.

The cap­tain said offi­cials watch con­di­tions all the time, and the allies will con­tin­ue to hedge bets to pre­serve as much flex­i­bil­i­ty as pos­si­ble. “The ene­my always gets a vote,” Kir­by said.

The ulti­mate goal is to com­plete tran­si­tion by the end of 2014, but many steps remain before that date, he said, empha­siz­ing that tran­si­tion takes time and is an evo­lu­tion, not a sharp deci­sion point.

“It is a well-rea­soned process,” Kir­by said. “It’s going to be informed by con­di­tions on the ground and opin­ions and judg­ments of oper­a­tional com­man­ders and informed by gen­er­al assess­ment of the per­for­mance and capa­bil­i­ties … of the Afghan forces.”

It’s not too soon for the allies to be dis­cussing the final phas­es of the tran­si­tion, Kir­by said.

“Giv­en the suc­cess we’ve made and the progress that the Afghan nation­al secu­ri­ty forces have made, this is some­thing we need to con­sid­er,” he said. “2014 is not that far away. It would be impru­dent — in fact, I think it would be irre­spon­si­ble — if we and our allies and part­ners were not start­ing to have these dis­cus­sions now.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)