WASHINGTON, Aug. 15 (UPI) -- The Afghan National Security Forces is on track to reach a strength of 352,000 this year, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said.
Panetta, addressing a news briefing at the Pentagon with Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey, said the ANSF continues to grow in size and capability.
"Two-thirds of all of those in uniform defending Afghanistan are now Afghans, and the ANSF remains on track to grow to 352,000 later this year," the secretary said.
He said the growth of special operations capability has allowed the Afghan forces to "plan, conduct, and lead special operations missions every day and every night." The Afghan National Army recently activated a special operations command, consisting of 10,000 soldiers, he said.
"The highly capable, professional ANSF has the potential, we believe, to deal a crippling and lasting blow to the insurgency," Panetta said. "For that reason, our enemies have attempted to undermine the trust between the coalition and Afghan forces, and in particular they have tried to take credit for a number of so-called green-on-blue or insider attacks that have taken place this fighting season."
The secretary, expressing concern about such attacks, said he and Gen. John Allen, top commander of the coalition forces in Afghanistan, have discussed a range of measures to try to stop these attacks, including increased intelligence and counterintelligence to get better information on the potential for such attacks.
Panetta, citing Pakistan's decision to reopen the NATO supply lines, said it was encouraging that Islamabad is now taking a "more positive, visible step to advance our shared objective of a secure and peaceful Afghanistan." He said cross-border cooperation with Pakistan is also increasing.
Dempsey said he would return to Kabul next week to talk with Allen and the new commanders about how to continue to make the ANSF stronger and the Taliban weaker.