- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 8, 2012

WASHINGTON (AP) — The No. 2 U.S. commander in Afghanistan said Wednesday that U.S. military advisory teams will start deploying to Afghanistan this year to help Afghan combat forces as they take a more prominent role in fighting the Taliban.

The plan, as described by Lt. Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, is for U.S. and other international troops to begin stepping back from their leading role so that responsibility for the war is fully in Afghan hands by the end of 2014.

Gen. Scaparrotti has been in charge of day-to-day military operations in Afghanistan since last July as commander of the International Security Assistance Force Joint Command.

He said he is pushing to get more Afghans into the lead while there are still large numbers of U.S. troops there.

“I’m pressing commanders to put them into the lead as soon as they can,” Gen. Scaparrotti told reporters at the Pentagon. “The earlier we get them into the lead, the better we have a metric of just how well they’re doing, and we also know better how to improve them.”

Gen. Scaparrotti said he is in the early stages of shifting from NATO-led to Afghan-led military operations. He estimated that just 1 percent of Afghan battalions are currently able to operate “independently” with help from NATO advisers.

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