Washington: The US will have an "enduring presence" in Afghanistan after withdrawal of its troops from the war-torn country by 2014 and continue to support Afghan forces to ensure that al Qaeda never regains a safe haven there, Defence Secretary Leon Panetta has said.
"We have made clear that our commitment to Afghanistan, as we draw down by the end of 2014, our commitment will continue. We are transitioning; we are not leaving," Panetta said at the National Press Club yesterday.
"We will maintain an enduring presence aimed at supporting Afghan forces and ensuring the mission that we were embarked on in Afghanistan, the mission that al-Qaeda never again regains Afghanistan as a safe haven from which to attack the United States or our allies," he said.
Panetta, who recently returned from his eighth trip to Afghanistan, said both the Afghan leaders and US commanders in the country believe that they have fundamentally turned the tide in that effort after years in which they lacked the right strategy and necessary resources to try to achieve the mission they had embarked on.
"We now have a plan in place, a campaign plan endorsed in Chicago by NATO, that has strong international support. We`ve reversed a five-year trend of growing violence. The Taliban to this day has not been able over this last year to regain any of the territory they lost. We are building Afghan security forces that are on track to take the lead for securing the entire country next year," he said.
"We continue to transition both governance and security to the Afghans. Seventy five per cent of the population has now been transitioned to Afghan security and control, and next year we will have a hundred per cent," Panetta said.
Responding to questions, he said the Taliban is resilient in the country and will continue to try to conduct attacks.
"They`ll continue to do IED attacks. They`ll continue to try to do high-profile assassinations. They`ll continue to try to do what they can to draw attention to their efforts," he said, but insisted that the Taliban are losing in Afghanistan.
"They have not been able to regain any territory that they`ve lost, and we continue to put pressure on them through both the Afghans and the US presence there," Panetta said.