US general says Afghanistan troop drawdown won't trigger more unrest

The planned withdrawal of 33,000 American forces from Afghanistan will not lead to even more unrest in that country, a senior U.S. commander there said Wednesday.

While violence in Afghanistan is slightly up over past years, Lt. Gen. David Rodriguez, deputy commander of U.S. Forces-Afghanistan, expressed confidence that a planned transition of security to Afghan forces by 2014 “is on track.”

During a video conference, Rodriguez said the partial U.S. pullout will begin this month and will include some combat troops. He also said U.S. officials expects rates of violence to drop next year, but did not offer a timeline on when that might happen.

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The 33,000 U.S. troops slated to be withdrawn will be replaced by another surge of forces, 70,000 Afghan troops. Rodriguez explained the rapid buildup of that nation’s indigenous military and security force is why he is confident the planned 2014 transition will be met.

Pentagon officials and military commanders have credited the influx of 33,000 troops into the country in 2010 along with a shift to a counterinsurgency strategy that requires more boots on the ground for helping steer momentum away from the Taliban, al Qaeda and their allies.

Obama last month, overruling some of his top national security Cabinet members and uniformed commanders, green-lighted the removal of 10,000 troops this year and the other 23,000 troops by next summer. The decision has left some lawmakers and analysts wondering whether a troop-intensive strategy can continue to build on recent gains with fewer U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

Troops will start leaving Afghanistan soon and will initially include a mix of combat forces, combat support personnel and headquarters staffers, said Rodriguez, who is set to depart himself for his next posting as U.S. Army Forces Command chief.

Several times during the briefing, the general stated that what happens over the long run in Afghanistan is up to the Afghans -- a line pushed hard in recent weeks by the Obama administration.

Rodriguez also said Pakistani officials must do more to “help and support” the mission in Afghanistan.

U.S. officials continue to press Islamabad after al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was found hiding about 35 miles from the Pakistani capital in May.

The deputy U.S. commander said he wants Pakistani officials to clamp down harder on the movement of improvised bombs and other explosive devices, bomb-making experts and the leaders of anti-U.S. groups from Pakistan into Afghanistan.

“We all think and know they need to do more,” Rodriguez said.