Marine Gen. John Allen relinquished command of coalition forces in Afghanistan on Sunday, expressing optimism about the nation's future but saying the world will keep a close watch on how the government handles next year's elections and whether it follows through on promised reforms.
U.S. Marine Gen. Joseph F. Dunford, right, shakes hand with outgoing NATO commander U.S. Gen. John Allen during a change of command ceremony at the ISAF headquarters in Kabul. (Photo: Massoud Hossaini, AP)
"The big benchmark for all of us is going to be the election," Allen told reporters moments before a simple ceremony in which he handed the battle colors to another U.S. Marine general, Joseph Dunford.
The last elections, held in 2009, were marred by violence and allegations of corruption. Elections are scheduled for next year, a time when most security will be the responsibility of the Afghan security forces and the American presence will be significantly reduced.
"The international community is in this to a point, but it won't be in this to a fault," Allen said. "What that means is we will all watch the outcome of the election."
Afghan President Hamid Karzai has pledged to combat endemic corruption in his country and improve government transparency. "The rhetoric has to be accompanied by action," Allen said.
Hoping to avoid a repeat of history, U.S. officials have emphasized the importance of continued support of Afghanistan after 2014 when most U.S. combat forces will leave.
The Soviets withdrew nearly all support for Afghanistan's government after its troops left the country in 1989, leading to the collapse of the Soviet-backed government and civil war several years later.
By contrast, the United States and its allies have pledged to continue supporting Afghanistan's military and economy even after most foreign troops are gone.
But Allen said the United States and its allies will expect to see improvements in governance and efforts to reduce corruption.
"The normal follow through on counterinsurgency is the development of governmental capacity," Allen said.
Still he said such improvements usually lag behind security progress and urged the international community to exercise patience.
Source: USA Today | Jim Michaels