Special forces, Afghan troops to pick up slack of departing US troops

Roughly 23,000 American soldiers are set to rotate back to the United States this summer. Those troops represent what is left of the 33,000 surge forces President Obama flooded into Afghanistan in late 2009.

Once complete, American commanders will have roughly 68,000 U.S. boots on the ground in Afghanistan. 

The White House plans to pull all U.S. troops from Afghanistan and hand control over to the Afghans in 2014. 

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American and Afghan special operations units will help spearhead a massive push into insurgent-controlled areas in eastern Afghanistan this spring, near the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) chief Gen. John Allen said on Monday. 

Afghan "Kandak" commando units will team up with their U.S. counterparts to carry out village stability operations and "focused task force" missions in areas in and around eastern Afghanistan, Allen said. 

Those units will be supported primarily by elements from the 201st and 203rd Afghan Army Corps, along with the remaining contingent of U.S. troops in country. 

Some on Capitol Hill, most notably Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), have dismissed the notion that a surge of special-operations forces focusing on counterterrorism can make up for a U.S. military drawdown. 

"It didn't work in Iraq and it won't work in Afghanistan," he told reporters on March 12. 

As Afghan and coalition forces push eastward, ISAF commanders will also look to maintain their foothold in southern Afghanistan. 

The administration's 2009 surge strategy focused on wresting Kandahar and the surrounding Helmand province in southern Afghanistan from Taliban control.

While U.S. and NATO forces have been able to quell much of the Taliban's activity in the south, insurgents tied to the Haqqani terror network in the east remain one of the deadliest threats to coalition troops. 

With American forces drawing down in the country, Haqqani leaders "sense ... now is their opportunity" to take back Kabul from coalition forces, according to Allen. 

That said, the upcoming eastern offensive "will spend a good amount of time" geared toward dismantling the network and its affiliates, he said. 

Maintaining control of southern Afghanistan while going after the Haqqani network in the east will largely depend on the role of Afghan forces in those missions. 

When asked if the Afghan military would be up to the task, Allen said both the commando and regular army units were progressing as planned.

U.S. military planners are also focusing their efforts on coalition-led military adviser units, to see if that progress can be accelerated.