By Jeremy Herb - 07/23/12 02:53 PM EDT
The United States is halfway completed with its planned drawdown of 23,000 troops from Afghanistan this year, the U.S. commander in that country said Sunday.
Gen. John Allen said in an interview with The Associated Press in Kabul that the drawdown is halfway finished and will accelerate in the coming months. It’s planned to be completed in September.
The 23,000 surge troops leaving Afghanistan this year follow 10,000 that withdrew in 2011. About 68,000 U.S. forces will remain in Afghanistan when the drawdown is complete.
Allen is expected to start examining how the U.S. forces should withdraw into 2013 and 2014 after surge troops have departed. The United States and NATO plan to hand off security control to the Afghans by the end of 2014.
Allen emphasized in the interview that a NATO presence will remain beyond 2014 to aid and train the Afghans, though he did not discuss specifics.
“The stakes are very high. The fact that we were attacked on the 11th of September  is a direct line relationship between what happened on that day and what could happen again if we don’t get this right,” Allen said. “I think an awful lot has gone in during the last several years into getting this right. It’s not going to end at the end of 2014.”
Between one-third to one-half of the 23,000 troops withdrawn are combat troops, Allen told the AP. He said that a “good bit” are coming from the southwest of Afghanistan, which includes Helmand province, an area where much of the fighting against the Taliban has occurred.