UK & World News
Afghanistan: New General To Oversee Withdrawal
A new man takes control of Isaf forces in Afghanistan today.
A ceremony in Kabul will mark the end of General John Allen's 19 months in the job as he hands over to fellow US Marine General Joseph Dunford.
He becomes President Obama's fifth commander of the war in Afghanistan but it's expected that with the planned withdrawal of forces from the country, starting later this year, General Dunford's command will be the last.
General Dunford's appointment late last year coincided with General Allen fighting a scandal about his potentially inappropriate connections with a woman in Florida.
General Allen, whose career future was in doubt, has since been cleared to become Nato's supreme allied commander in Europe.
His farewell message to all Isaf troops was both bullish in its praise but also spoke of the ongoing challenge for his successor.
"This campaign is, and always has been, about winning. And we are winning," he wrote. "Our victory may never be marked by a parade of point in time when victory is declared.
"This campaign will be won when the population is protected by its own forces and recognises its government as legitimate and representative of the democratic will of people.
"It is then that Afghanistan will be a free and sovereign state, and terrorists will no longer find safe haven within its borders."
General Dunford is highly thought of in the US Marines. He has been variously described as calm and thoughtful and has experience as a Commander in Iraq.
But his high military profile doesn't match his public reputation - he is largely unknown, having preferred a quiet, assured progression to the top.
At a recent Senate hearing, former Presidential candidate John McCain questioned General Dunford's appointment on the grounds of his limited experience in Afghanistan.
Military officials have downplayed this by pointing out that General Dunford's work has taken him to Afghanistan many times and reminding all that General David Petraeus - former head of the CIA and widely considered one of the foremost Isaf commanders in Afghanistan - had little previous experience in the country before assuming his role.
General Dunford's primary task will be to oversee the drawdown of Isaf troops from Afghanistan.
Washington is yet to formalise its own itinerary but the UK government has already committed to pulling around 3,800 of its 9,000 personnel back by the end of this year.
The US has considerably more troops in the country - 60,000 - but questions persist over how many will remain in a training and oversight capacity post-2014. President Obama is expected to reveal some details in his upcoming State of the Union address.
US officials have played down the prospect of a "zero-option" which would see all American troops leave the country by the end of next year.
General Dunford was chosen over better known candidates, such as General David Rodriguez because his instinct to think outside the box has previously impressed Washington.
He will need to be astute but equally mindful that this skill might run contrary to the job description as the final commander: to carry out President Obama's withdrawal plan without fuss or controversy.
What might stand him in good stead and endear him to an Afghan government that has had previous and numerous disagreements with Washington, is his intense study of Afghan history since being appointed to the role.
Isaf forces will cede the majority of operations to their Afghan partners this spring and their ability to cope during the next fighting season might have a bearing on wider drawdown plans.
Recently the preparedness of Afghan soldiers has been questioned.
General Dunford will have to decide how aggressive his soldiers should be in fighting a threat that is still present.
The post-2014 mission will focus on training, counter-terrorism and supporting diplomatic and development operations.
Towards the end of the conflict in Iraq, Baghdad and Washington failed to achieve an agreement on post-operation security for the remaining forces.
That led to a quicker than expected withdrawal of troops form the country, something that has been criticised in retrospective analysis.
Such a bilateral agreement must be reached between Presidents Obama and Karzai if an equivalent scenario isn't to be repeated.