|Allen said Pakistan and Iran had provided support and safehavens to anti-government forces [Reuters]
General John Allen, the United States' top commander in Afghanistan, has told Congress that plans to withdraw from the country by the end of 2014 remain on track.
Allen's statement to legislators on Tuesday followed the alleged massacre of 16 Afghan civilians by a US soldier and protests over the burning of Qurans at a US airbase which have damaged relations between the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and the Afghan government.
In a testimony to the House Armed Services Committee, Allen said the killings in Kandahar had had no major impact on the withdrawal timetable and that coalition forces were making progress in handing over security to the Afghans, with the expectation that US combat forces would leave by December 2014.
"I believe the campaign is on track" Allen said of the more than 10-year ISAF mission.
But Allen said that 13 coalition troops had been killed by apparent Afghan security force members since January in attacks he said were believed to have been motivated by anger over the burning of Qurans at Bagram airbase.
Some legislators pressed Allen on whether the United States should accelerate the timetable for withdrawing some of the combat forces in the wake of recent problems in Afghanistan and growing war weariness in the US.
'Making a difference'
"We are making a difference. I know this and our troops know this" Allen said to the politicians facing an increasingly war-weary US public.
|From the perspective of one neighbourhood in Herat
The current US plan calls for a withdrawal of 23,000 US troops by the end of September and a complete withdrawal by December 2014, when Afghan forces are to take charge of the country's security.
Allen told the committee that he had not yet assessed the force levels he expected would be required for 2013 and 2014.
"Before the end of 2012 I intend to provide through my chain of command to the president a series of recommendations on the kind of combat power that I'll need for 2013 and 2014. I don't have a decision at this point," he said.
He added that he had not made up his mind whether he would recommend an offensive in eastern Afghanistan, which officials had long suggested would follow up operations in the south.
"I've not made a final decision at this point. We anticipate shifting resources to the east in any case because it remains there that the principal COIN (counterinsurgency) fight will ultimately be shaped in 2012," he said.
Allen also expressed criticism of neighbouring Pakistan, which he said allowed al-Qaeda-linked and other armed groups "to operate with impunity: across the border, and Iran which he said "continued to support the insurgency and fuels often the flame of violence".