PENTAGON - “Transition" is the key word for NATO-led international forces in Afghanistan as the International Security Assistance Force, ISAF, continues to draw down troops on the ground. With the number of international troops dwindling, the top commander of these forces in Afghanistan said the fight is still a difficult one.
ISAF Commander General John Campbell said the toll of Afghan forces killed and wounded this year is between 7,000 and 9,000, slightly higher than last year.
Speaking to reporters via satellite, he said recent fighting in Helmand province has contributed to the rise.
“The last couple of weeks, there’s been an uptick with the Taliban trying to make a statement as they close out the fighting season,” said Campbell.
As Afghan forces shoulder more fighting responsibilities, ISAF troops will draw down from about 40,000 to less than 13,000 in Afghanistan at the end of December.
Analyst Andrew Wilder said that means a new role for international forces.
“It is important to emphasize that the main mission is not a combat mission - it is a training, advising and assisting mission,” said Wilder.
But Campbell warned international forces still have a difficult road ahead.
“We lost a soldier the other night. We lost three about five days ago, so this continues to be a very tough environment for our soldiers, for all of NATO,” said Campbell.
Campbell told VOA that while international forces are no longer on patrol with Afghan brigades, they are still battling to rid the country of al-Qaida insurgents through counterterrorism, or CT, operations.
Even as more troops leave, General Campbell said he is comfortable that international forces are on the right path to helping build a more stable Afghanistan.