US commander in Afghanistan suggests 'no further troop reduction until late 2012'

Washington, Mar 21 (ANI): A top US commander in Afghanistan has said that he would not consider further American troop reductions until late this year, after the departure of the current 'surge' forces.

General John R. Allen, a Marine four-star general who commands the American-led allied forces in Afghanistan, said that only after reviewing the results of the next six months of fighting, at the end of which there will be 68,000 American troops remaining there, he would turn his attention to the pace of further reductions in the force.

But he repeatedly said that by the end of next year, Afghan forces would have taken over primary responsibility for operations across the country, allowing NATO's combat role to be finished by the end of 2014, as currently scheduled, The New York Times reports.

According to the paper, General Allen emphasized that Afghan security forces were growing stronger, having reached 330,000, and that their buildup remained on track.

He also emphasized that he remained optimistic about eventual success, but that it was too early to begin shifting forces from battles in the south to the country's turbulent eastern provinces.

General Allen also acknowledged the deep sensitivities, especially given the current diplomatic crisis with Afghanistan, involved in handing over complete security control to Afghan forces, including over the commando night raids that American commanders say are critical to the war effort.

These are the subject of intense negotiation, he testified. (ANI)