by Farid Behbud
KABUL, Feb. 11 (Xinhua) -- As a U.S. four-star general assumed the command of nearly 100,000 U.S. and NATO-led forces in Afghanistan on Sunday, some have voiced concerns that the new commander may face various challenges in the coming years.
U.S. Marine Corps Gen. Joseph F. Dunford took over the command of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) from his fellow U.S. Marine Corps Gen. John R. Allen at a change of command ceremony held in Kabul on Sunday.
"It is a change of command. It is not a change of war strategy. I think the new NATO commander would obviously stick to the same strategy that his predecessors had in the past," a local military expert retired General Abdul Ghafar Gardezi told Xinhua.
The new U.S. general took over the responsibility amid increasing militancy as well as security transition from NATO-led troops to Afghan government.
"The challenges still remain. The anti-government elements and Taliban are still the main threats to the security of the country in coming years," said Gardezi, a former Afghan army commander.
Making sure that the Afghan forces are ready to take security charges, countering the so-called "green on blue" or insider attacks as well as arrangement of withdrawal of the U.S. and NATO- led forces from the insurgency-hit country would be the difficult tasks laying ahead for Gen. Dunford, Gardezi said.
The Afghan security forces are expected to assume the operational lead across the country by spring this year, and ISAF will move into an advisor-support role with a final withdrawal slated for the end of next year.
The Taliban has been waging an insurgency since its regime was toppled by a U.S-led invasion in late 2001.
Currently about 100,000 NATO-led forces, with nearly 66,000 of them Americans, are deployed in the country to halt the Taliban attempt from returning to power.
"Today is not about change, it's about continuity," said the four-star General Dunford, after taking over the command, at the ceremony on Sunday.
"I'll endeavor to continue the momentum of the campaign and support the people of Afghanistan as they seize the opportunity for a brighter future," he said in his remarks to the audience.
Dunford will also have to keep in contact with the Pakistani military for military-to-military relationship between ISAF and Pakistan military leaders as Pakistan's role is said to be critical in bringing peace to Afghanistan.
"Gen. Allen also played a critical role in stabilizing relations with neighboring Pakistan after a series of crises in 2011 had threatened to fracture the partnership with Pakistan," ISAF said in a statement on Sunday.
"Under Allen's leadership, the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), what Gen. Allen has called the 'defeat mechanism of the insurgency,'reached their target strength of 352,000 and are now leading the vast majority of operations across the country," the ISAF statement added.
However, many Afghans fear that their security forces, which is still handicapped by shortcomings, for instance, the lack of heavy weapons and air-power may hinder the security forces from fully protecting the war-battered country from frequent militant attacks even when the bulk of U.S. troops were still present.
Allen in his latest interview with a local media outlet said that uncertainty of the Afghan people about their future is the biggest concern for him as he leaves the post.
"There is uncertainty right now because we are still in a conflict. And yes, there is uncertainty because we haven't achieved all we would like to achieve in terms of governmental capacity and countering corruption," said Allen, who served since July 2011, making him the longest-serving NATO-led ISAF commander in the 11-year-old campaign.
Under U.S. President Barack Obama withdrawal plan, the last of 33,000 U.S. surge troops deployed to Afghanistan, had pulled out of the insurgency-hit country last September.
The ANSF and NATO troops have completed transition in the first three of five tranches of provinces and districts across the country. The Afghan national security forces took full control of areas where about 75 percent of the population lives.In a steady phase, the U.S. president is to announce the next phase of troop's drawdown in the coming months.