WASHINGTON - The head of the US Marine Corps on Tuesday said Afghan forces would not be ready to take over security from US troops in key southern provinces for at least "a few years."
"I honestly think it will be a few years before conditions on the ground are such that turnover will be possible for us," General James Conway told reporters, referring to Marines deployed in the provinces of Helmand and Kandahar.
Conway, who just returned from visiting Marines in Afghanistan, said some Afghan units "somewhere" might be able to assume the lead for security in 2011 but not in the south, which he called the "birthplace" of the Taliban insurgency.
His comments were the latest sign from US military leaders that a major troop withdrawal remained a long way off, despite a July 2011 deadline set by President Barack Obama for the start of a drawdown.
Conway acknowledged that public support for the US mission was declining but appealed for patience, warning of the risks of any early withdrawal.
"I sense our country is increasingly growing tired of the war," he said.
But Conway cited a fellow commander's assessment that "we can either lose fast or win slow."
The general added that the administration needed to do a better job of explaining the mission in Afghanistan and the importance of preventing Al-Qaeda and its allies from securing safe havens in the country.