Dunford: Taliban will be a force in Afghanistan 'for years' after US troops leave

The insurgency's resiliency and steep learning curve facing Afghanistan's nascent military all but guarantees the fight against the Taliban will endure even after America's war in the country comes to a close. 

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"My assumption is that the [Afghan] insurgency will still exist after 2014," Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, said in an interview with ABC News on Monday. 

"The conditions are not yet set for a stable and secure Afghanistan in the long-term," he added during his first interview since taking over the top spot in the country in February.  

Dunford, who replaced retired Marine Corps Gen. John Allen earlier this year, will oversee the withdrawal of the 66,000 American troops in Afghanistan and the handover of all security operations to Afghan forces over the next year. 

Despite that bleak postwar outlook for Afghanistan, the four-star general dismissed criticisms that after over a decade of war, the best Washington and its allies can hope for in Afghanistan is a "stalemate" with the Taliban. 

"I [have been] very clear that we are here to win." Dunford said. 

"I do not think we are drifting sideways. I do not think we are in a stalemate," the four-star general said, noting the "real" improvement within the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF). 

Those Afghan forces, backed by a handful of U.S. and NATO advisers after 2014, will be "to the point where they can deal with that" long-term Taliban threat after the 2014 withdrawal deadline. 

When asked if U.S. and NATO forces have a "Plan B" in place, if Afghan forces are simply not ready to take over by 2014, Dunford replied: "It is going to work." 

But the upcoming fighting season this spring promises to be one of the most violent of the 11-year war and stern test of the Afghan's readiness to take over for the American and NATO forces. 

The spring fighting season in Afghanistan has gotten off to an early start this year, due to warmer temperatures arriving in the country earlier than expected. 

American and NATO commanders are honing in on a band of Afghan provinces in the east near the Pakistan border, known as "the Pashtun heart of the insurgency" International Security Assistance Forces (ISAF) Deputy Commander British Lt. Gen. Nick Carter said earlier this month. 

"Those are the ones that we would expect to be most violent," he said at the time. 

Given this year's spring campaign will likely be the last one for U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan, American commanders see "some indication that the Taliban would like to be successful this year," according to Dunford said. 

Taliban fighters will focus on "high profile attacks and assassinations" of top Afghan government leaders, Dunford said, in an attempt to force provincial and district leaders to break ties with Kabul and ally themselves with the insurgency. 

Half of the 66,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan are scheduled to withdraw from the country this spring. The final 32,000 American forces remaining in the country will start coming home following the country's presidential election in April 2014 — officially ending America's combat role.

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