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Afghanistan mission 'on track' - US

The top US commander in Afghanistan has said that efforts to hand over security to the Afghans and wind down the decade-plus war are on track despite anger over a US soldier's alleged massacre of civilians and the burning of Korans.

Marine General John Allen, in evidence to the House Armed Services Committee, gave no hint of an accelerated timetable for withdrawing US combat troops in the face of increasing political and public pressure to end the military mission.

Opinion polls show a growing number of Americans say the United States should bring home the 90,000 troops in the country. Afghan president Hamid Karzai said last week that he was at "the end of the rope" over the civilian deaths, and demanded that US troops leave local villages.

The current US plan calls for a drawdown of 23,000 American 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.

Gen Allen said: "I wish I could tell you that this war was simple and that progress could easily be measured. But that's not the way of counterinsurgencies. They are fraught with success and setbacks, which can exist in the same space and time, but each must be seen in the larger context of the overall campaign. I believe the campaign is on track."

Gen Allen's appearances before Congress - he will appear before a Senate committee on Thursday - are the first since a suspected shooting spree by a US soldier killed 16 Afghan civilians, including women and children, and the Koran burnings which sparked riots.

He insisted that the US and its coalition forces are moving ahead in ensuring that Afghanistan does not revert to a terrorist haven and transferring the security lead to the Afghans. He said the forces are meeting the commitments spelled out in the overall withdrawal plan hammered out at the conference in Lisbon in November 2010.

In the past year, Afghan security forces have expanded from 276,000 to 330,000 and will achieve their goal of full strength before an October deadline. This will allow the US to withdraw the remaining 23,000 American surge forces while pressuring the Taliban to reconcile.

But Gen Allen acknowledged the recent setbacks, including the violence stemming from the Koran burnings. A total of 32 Afghans died in the riots and others were injured.

He will face a divided and war-weary Congress more than 10 years after the September 11 terrorist attacks and nearly a year after the killing of al Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, an achievement some politicians argue should have ended the US combat mission

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