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WASHINGTON: The US task in Afghanistan is not complete and cannot be completed in the near future, says US military chief Gen. Joseph F. Dunford.

Addressing a Pentagon news briefing on Monday afternoon, US Secretary of Defence Ashton Carter said that the United States will continue to provide military support to Afghan security forces to make sure that they were successful.

“I don’t think anybody would suggest that our work is complete in Afghanistan, nor will that work be complete anytime in the near future,” Gen Dunford, the Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman, said at the same news conference.

“And our continued presence into 2017 and financial support by Nato nations, as approved at Warsaw (Nato summit earlier this month), will continue out to 2020,” he added.

The two leaders were responding to a question that continued US engagement in Afghanistan indicated that President Barack Obama failed to achieve his objective of ending the Afghan war during his presidency.

Last month, President Obama allowed the US forces to support Afghan military missions by conducting air strikes against the Taliban and other insurgents.

Before this, US air strikes were largely limited to protecting American troops and rescuing Afghan forces in extreme circumstances, such as preventing a key town from falling into Taliban control.

On July 6, President Obama also announced that the United States will maintain approximately 8,400 troops in Afghanistan through the end of his administration.

“The new authorities … were intended and are having the effect of strengthening the ability of … US forces to support Afghan forces this fighting season,” said Secretary Carter while explaining the US strategy.

The new powers would “make sure that Afghan security forces … are successful in this fighting season” and recognise the fact that even though they’ve come a long ways since when they started, they still benefit from the support of US forces, he said.

Gen Dunford said he believed President Obama recognised that in some areas the Afghan forces “still lag in terms of capability development” when he authorised the US forces to step up their support.

“With regard to what’s going to happen after this president, I think this president recognised, when he approved the request” for keeping some US troops in Afghanistan in 2017, that the conflict was not ending during his tenure, he said.

Gen Dunford also addressed a UN report, released on Monday, saying that there were more civilian casualties in Afghanistan in the first six month of this year than during the same period in any of the past six years.

Published in Dawn, July 27th, 2016