World

Afghan army will be strong enough to take over in 2011: U.S. general

Afghan forces should be able to handle their own security by 2011, allowing international troops to start withdrawing, according to the commander of the NATO-led force in Afghanistan.

Afghan soldiers and police should be able to handle their own security by 2011, allowing international forces to start withdrawing, according to the commander of the NATO-led force in Afghanistan.

Gen. Dan K. McNeill says Afghan forces should be able to take control of most of their country by 2011. ((Virginia Mayo/Associated Press))

Gen. Dan K. McNeill, in an interview published Monday in the New York Times, said Afghan forces already have control of the capital city of Kabul.

In three years, they should have control of much of the rest of the country, said McNeill, an American who took command of NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in February 2007.

"By about 2011 there is going to be some pretty good capacity in the Afghan National Army," he said.

"It will take them a few more years to get their air transport and air support platforms on line, but they should be covering a lot of battle space by some time in 2011, in my view."

At that point, NATO can review whether it still needs to have 47,000 troops in the country, as it has now, McNeill said.

"I think you begin to get to a juncture and say, 'Probably not, maybe we should be starting to change the way this force works,'" McNeill said.

His words fit the timeline recently set out by Canada. In March, the Liberals supported a controversial Conservative government motion to extend the Canadian mission in the country by two years, to 2011.

The motion stirred up heated debate in Canada, where some are calling for the immediate withdrawal of troops. Canada currently has more than 2,500 troops deployed in Afghanistan. It has lost 82 soldiers since the mission began in 2002.

McNeill's optimism seems to contrast with a somewhat bleaker view set out by Canada's international trade minister, David Emerson, on April 11.

"I don't think any of us should be under the illusion that Afghanistan is going to be a thriving, prosperous democracy by 2011," said Emerson, chair of a cabinet committee overseeing Ottawa's war-and-development strategy.

"But we hope we can get to the point where Afghanistan has become a viable state and we can normalize Canada's relationship."

McNeill said he has confidence that Afghanistan will be secure enough to hold a presidential election in September 2009.

now