US military beginning Afghanistan withdrawal

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THE United States military has begun its withdrawal from Afghanistan in earnest, sending the first of what will be tens of thousands of containers home via a once-blocked land route through Pakistan.

The shipment of 50 containers came as new US commander General Joseph Dunford took control of Nato forces to guide the coalition through the end stages of a war that has so far lasted more than 11 years.

Gen Dunford’s predecessor, General John Allen, had to deal with the delicate task of improving relations with Pakistan, which closed two key land routes from Afghanistan to its southern port of Karachi to all Nato cargo for seven months in retaliation for US air strikes that killed 24 Pakistani troops at a post along the Afghan border in November 2011. Islamabad reopened the route after Washington apologised for the deaths.

Gen Dunford also has to oversee the withdrawal of 100,000 Nato troops and make sure the newly recruited and trained Afghan security forces are capable of taking the lead for their country’s security in the spring.

Although Afghan forces are almost at their full strength of 352,000, persistent violence and insider attacks against Nato forces have raised concerns about whether they are ready to take on the fight by themselves.