Top US leader in Afghan says mission on track

Top US leader in Afghan says mission on track Washington: The top US commander in Afghanistan says efforts to hand over security to the Afghans and wind down the decade-plus war are on track despite anger over a US soldier's alleged massacre of Afghan civilians and the burning of Qurans.

Marine Gen John Allen, in testimony prepared for the House Armed Services Committee, gave no hint of an accelerated timetable for withdrawing US combat troops in the face of increasing political and public pressure to end the military mission.

Opinion polls show a growing number of Americans say the United States should bring home the 90,000 troops now in the country. Afghan President Hamid Karzai said last week he was at "the end of the rope" over civilian deaths, and demanded that US troops leave local villages.

The current US plan calls for a withdrawal of 23,000 American troops by the end of September and a complete pullout by December 2014, when Afghan forces are to take charge of the country's security.

"I wish I could tell you that this war was simple, and that progress could easily be measured," Allen said. "But that's not the way of counterinsurgencies. They are fraught with success and setbacks, which can exist in the same space and time, but each must be seen in the larger context of the overall campaign. And I believe that the campaign in on track."

Allen's appearances before Congress he will testify before a Senate committee Thursday are the first since a suspected shooting spree by a US soldier killed 16 Afghan civilians, including women and children, and the Quran burnings that touched off riots. The Associated Press obtained a copy of his testimony.

Allen insisted that the US and its coalition forces are moving ahead in ensuring that Afghanistan does not revert to a terrorist haven and transferring the security lead to the Afghans. The forces, he said, are meeting the commitments spelled out in the overall withdrawal plan hammered out at the conference in Lisbon in November 2010.

Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says today that US policymakers must "keep our nerve" in Afghanistan.

"We just have to remember what Afghanistan was like 10 years ago," when the Taliban were in charge, she said, adding that the United States should focus heavily on training Afghan security forces because "we can't afford to leave Afghanistan to the Taliban and the terrorists."