KABUL — U.S. Marine General Joseph Dunford has taken over command of coalition forces in Afghanistan. Dunford, who succeeds outgoing General John Allen, will complete the withdrawal of most U.S. and other international troops from the country.
It was a ceremony with much pomp, and from outgoing General John Allen, a reassurance that peace in Afghanistan is on the horizon 19 months after he took command of the International Security Assistance Force. “Frankly, looking back on that day in July 2011, 19 months ago, I did not have the sense of optimism that I have as I stand here before you today. The optimism, and the very real sense of knowing that we will be victorious," he said.
Allen handed over command to Marine General Joseph Dunford, whose job it will be to send home most of the 66,000 U.S. troops and other foreign forces left in Afghanistan by the end of next year. “Today, we're saying goodbye to a great commander and we're changing command. But today is not about change. It's about continuity," said Dunford.
The withdrawal continues. But U.S. and coalition troops are going home before there is peace. Some territory is still in the hands of insurgents - mainly in rural areas.
U.S. officials say their departure is a successful one. The goal was to transfer security responsibility to Afghan forces - a process that is well under way.
Dunford indicated he shares Allen's optimism. “As General Allen departs theater, he leaves the coalition and our Afghan partners postured for success. I'll endeavor to continue the momentum of the campaign and support the people of Afghanistan as they seize the opportunity for a brighter future," he said.
That future depends on a number of unresolved questions.
The 2013 fighting season is approaching and it will be a test for the newly trained Afghan forces who will be at the forefront for the first time.
Also in question is the number of U.S. troops that would remain to advise and assist Afghanistan beyond 2014, and the outcome of elections, also next year, to determine who will replace longtime Afghan president and U.S. ally Hamid Karzai.
With the optimism, a lot of uncertainty looms over Afghanistan's future.