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Taliban will test Afghans in 2015: US commander

PTI| Updated: Aug 27, 2014, 15:56 PM IST

Kabul: Afghanistan's election stalemate this summer hurt progress in training the country's military, and resolving the political chaos will be key to that military's success in 2015, Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford said as he stepped down as the top US commander in Afghanistan.

The Taliban will test the Afghan forces next year with an onslaught of fighters and attacks, hoping to capitalise on the dwindling US and coalition troops in the country, Dunford said yesterday.

Shortly after he passed the flag to his successor, Army Gen. John Campbell, during a ceremony Tuesday in Kabul, Dunford ended his 18-month tour and boarded a plane back to the US.

His tenure at the battlefront spanned a critical transition period for the war, as the Obama administration announced a sharp drawdown in US troops to wind down the conflict, while the Afghans struggled to put a new government in place.

Earlier this year, Afghan forces were growing more confident as they set up security for the April election, then again for the runoff.

But amid widespread accusations of election fraud, the two presidential finalists are awaiting the results of an audit to determine the winner, while continuing to argue about the tally's legitimacy.

"As we went to political stalemate, we lost a little bit of the wind in their sails," Dunford said, adding that the Taliban took advantage of that and launched a series of attacks across the south.

"They were looking for a place to actually get a psychological victory to reinforce ... The pessimism that followed the second round of elections."

While the Afghan forces fought back and regained ground and a bit of the momentum, Dunford said the Taliban will mount another assault next summer.

"If we have a good political transition, that will propel the Afghan forces into 2015," said Dunford, who is becoming the next commandant of the Marine Corps.

That smooth transition in Afghanistan, however, is still in doubt.

The April 6 voting to elect a successor to President Hamid Karzai resulted in a runoff between former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah and ex-Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai.