One of the top generals in Afghanistan says the fledgling forces in that war-torn nation are going to need support after President Barack Obama's planned withdrawal of all combat troops by the end of 2014.
Lt. Gen. Mark Milley, commander of the International Security Assistance Force Joint Command, says its too early to tell how successful coalition troops and their Afghan partners have been during this year's fighting season. Once the snows begin to fall in October and insurgent fighters retreat to mountain hideouts, ISAF and the Afghan government will be able to analyze the data and make a recommendation to military leadership.
Obama has not yet indicated he has taken the so-called "zero option" off the table to withdraw all Americans by the end of 2014, as the U.S. did in Iraq in 2011.
"Some element of support is going to be needed," Milley told reporters Wednesday, speaking by teleconference from Afghanistan.
"There is a mission that comes after the current mission," he said. "There's a follow-on NATO mission called 'Resolute Support' that is in development now in terms of the planning of it, the size and scope of it, the tasks, and so forth."
Milley specified that this support as of Jan. 1, 2015 will likely not be at "the tactical level," but rather with logistics and other non-combat operations.
"They're pretty damn good at shoot, move and communicate in mounted and dismounted ground combat operations," he said of the Afghans.
There are roughly 350,000 trained Afghan soldiers and policemen, he said. They have taken the lead on 90 percent of all missions within Afghanistan as of June of this year, and are spread across as many as 4,000 outposts throughout the country.
This transition away from coalition-led missions is reflected in the Afghan forces' death toll, which Milley says is between 50 and 100 per week.
Afghan forces have conducted select missions in which they conducted their own air assaults and medevacs – which military leaders agree will be the key linchpin for Afghan success – though the U.S. still provided intelligence and surveillance, as well as close air support.
"They are capable right now of doing some of these operations," said Milley. "What we need to do, this year, is we need to see that across the board." All Afghan battalions, known as kandaks, must learn how to take these tasks on themselves by the end of the year.
"We think that's achievable," Milley said.