Top commander sees 'gentle reduction' of US forces in southern Afghanistan

"Commensurate with our troop strength, there will be a gentle reduction" in American air support and artillery units in southern Afghanistan, as well as teams that uncover and clear improvised explosive devices, to allow Afghan forces to pick up those missions, Maj. Gen. Robert Abrams told reporters at the Pentagon on Wednesday. 

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Abrams, who heads Regional Command-South, noted those units will not completely disappear from the battlefield "but it'll be an overall reduction of our force over time."

In 2009, President Obama funneled over 30,000 American troops into southern Afghanistan, as part of the White House's surge strategy to flush out Taliban strongholds in and around Kandahar province. 

The majority of those surge troops were withdrawn from the country last spring, as part of the administration's plan to have all U.S. combat forces out of Afghanistan by 2014. 

That said, American war planners also anticipate thinning out the number of  U.S. military teams specifically assigned to train and advise members of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) in southern Afghanistan and elsewhere, according to Abrams 

That reduction, the two-star general said, is doable since U.S. commanders anticipate more ANSF units being able to operate independently from their American advisers. 

"We do . . .  have a fair amount of those [ANSF units] that are independent," Abrams said. "We have others that are effective with advisers, and we'll be able to graduate them up. So we anticipate that by this fall . . . we will be able to thin up," the number of U.S. advisers teamed up with Afghan forces. 

"That will have obviously an impact on reducing our overall number of forces" stationed in southern Afghanistan, Abrams added. 

President Obama announced the administration would be pulling out half of the 66,000 remaining American service personnel in country by this spring.

The final 32,000 American forces remaining in Afghanistan after this spring's planned troop withdrawal will start coming home following the country's presidential election next April — officially ending America's combat role there that same month.

That withdrawal plan was part of the recommendations sent to the White House by retired Marine Corps Gen. John Allen, the former top U.S. commander in Afghanistan. 

The two-star general did not provide specifics on which particular American units would be cycling out of southern Afghanistan, or when those forces would begin arriving stateside. 

But as that final drawdown begins, Abrams pointed out that U.S. commanders will retain critical infrastructure and personnel needed to move the mountain of weapons and equipment out of the country. 

"We're not going to thin out our ability to conduct transportation operations," Abrams said "They're going to be absolutely essential as we close or transfer our bases and retrograde our equipment back" to the United States. 

Initial shipments of American supplies and equipment have already begun their slow journey out of Afghanistan to the United States via land-based supply lines in Pakistan. 

Over 50 containers loaded down with U.S. weapons and material began crossing the Afghan-Pakistan border in February, marking the beginning of the logistical piece of the U.S. drawdown in Afghanistan. 

Hundreds of shipments are expected to come through those supply routes toward Karachi over the next year, where they will be shipped back to military bases in the U.S.

"This is a process that has been in progress for some time now," Bogdan said. 

"We know well and good that we've got to maintain that logistics capability, sustainment capability to be able to close or transfer bases and to bring our equipment back, so that [wpuld be] be one area that we will not see a general reduction in," he added. 

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