KABUL, Afghanistan --
U.S. and NATO leaders today congratulated Marine Corps Gen. John R. Allen for a job well done as commander of the alliance's International Security Assistance Force and praised Marine Corps Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr. as the strategic leader needed for the next phase of the command.
At a ceremony here, Allen passed Dunford the flags of the NATO command and of U.S. Forces Afghanistan. There are 66,000 American service members in the country.
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey was on hand and praised Allen as a coalition builder. "He is as fine an officer as I've ever known," Dempsey said. "He has led with a quick mind, calloused hands and a servant's spirit."
Dunford is perfect to follow Allen as the new commander, Dempsey said, calling him a leader who can draw on more than 35 years of excellence at every level in the military.
Afghan Defense Minister Bismullah Khan thanked Allen for his leadership and told him to "be proud" of all he has done for Afghanistan to build and train Afghan security forces and reduce civilian casualties. "You are leaving behind memories we Afghans will always remember in our hearts," the defense minister said through a translator.
With 50 nations represented in the coalition to help the country, Allen said he is confident in victory. He remembered the more than 560 ISAF personnel who were killed and the more than 5,500 who were wounded during his 19 months in command.
The new commander kept his remarks short, but promised to keep up the momentum. Dunford will have his work cut out for him as he continues training Afghan forces and the movement of supplies and personnel out of the country ahead of the drawdown. And all this must be done in a way that allows a yet to be determined post NATO force to be ready to begin operations Jan. 1, 2015.
"Today is not about change, it's about continuity," Dunford said.