In his first television interview since taking control of the international force in Afghanistan, Gen. Joseph Dunford told ABC News' Martha Raddatz that while he expects Afghanistan's insurgency to continue beyond the U.S. drawdown next year, he feels hopeful about the direction of the country.
"I'm very clear that we're here to win," said Dunford. "There are certain things that have to happen. We've got a complete security transition. ... We've got a complete political transition. I think successful elections in the spring of 2014 will be an extraordinary event in Afghanistan and really be a bellwether for the 10 years opportunity that will follow."
Dunford said that attacks on the force by Afghan colleagues, like the stabbing of 26-year-old Sgt. Michael C. Cable by a teenage Afghan boy with whom he was working earlier this week, have "absolutely" had an impact on the force. Dunford called such "blue-on-green incidents" a significant threat.
"It's something I take very seriously as a commander, the lives of our young men and women," he said.
Last year, at least 62 coalition troops were killed by "insider attacks." As a result, Dunford said, the NATO coalition has increased training and counter-intelligence ability, including having armed men act as "guardian angels" present at meetings involving U.S. and coalition officials with their Afghan counterparts.
"This is not an area that we'll be complacent in, this is never an area where we'll say we've solved the insider threat problem," said Dunford. "Every day, we're focused on that, we take it serious and we put mitigation measures in place."
Similarly to his predecessor, Gen. John Allen, Dunford expressed cautious optimism about the future of Afghanistan after the withdrawal of U.S. combat troops next year. He said that the Afghan security forces have really taken the lead in protecting their country and are meeting all the benchmarks the Obama administration has set.
"When I look at the Afghan forces there are really three questions that I ask," he said. "One is: Can they assume the lead in 2013? ... And the answer is yes. The second question ... is: As I look to the elections of 2014, can they provide security? ... and the answer is yes. And the third question is: Can they affect full security transition at the end of 2014? And the answer is yes."
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The general maintained the biggest requirement for the Afghans' success will be a commitment by the U.S. and the international community to continue to support the country and its security forces. Just as The U.S. and its NATO allies have made clear to the rest of the world that the force will be drawing down in a year, the Taliban also knows, and it is poised to take advantage.
"We've seen some indication that the Taliban would like to be successful this year, particularly conducting high-profile attacks and assassinations of Afghan leaders to try to erode the will of the coalition, to try to address the confidence of the Afghan people," he told Raddatz.
The commander warned that a lack of confidence by the Afghan people in American and international support could be the greatest weapon for the extremists.
"Many people tell me they're more concerned about the uncertainty of the future than they are about the Taliban," said Dunford, adding that the Taliban "will attempt to feed those fears about the post-2014 environment."
Dunford said the U.S. does not expect that all violence will cease in Afghanistan by next year, but that the goal is to leave the country with a foundation for peace, and then follow up with advisory support.
"From my perspective, we'll still need to be in the four corners of the country post 2014," he said. "We'll still need to provide advice and assistance to the Afghan core level."
He said that, similarly to the situation in Iraq after the U.S. withdrawal, Afghanistan's ultimate success needs to be measured in years, not months.
"I see a great opportunity today for stability and security in Afghanistan 10 years from now," said Dunford. "But it is going to be a long-term process. ... What we are really trying to do by the end of 2014 is provide the Afghans with what I would describe as a 'decade of opportunity.' At that point, security and stability will be in their hands."