CAMP PENDLETON - On the heels of President Obama's promise to bring more troops home, the top Marine general in Afghanistan said on Wednesday that Afghan forces are ready.
"It really has been a year of change," Maj. Gen. Mark Gurganus, who is with the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force (FWD) in Afghanistan, said via a video conference to Camp Pendleton.
As Obama pressed for 34,000 more troops to come home during his State of the Union speech on Tuesday night, Gurganus said during the year he has commanded coalition forces in Afghanistan's southwest command.
He said the Afghan National Security Force or ANSF has grown into an effective fighting force.
"It's their fight now, and they realize it's their fight and we happened to be here when we've seen the ANSF step to the front," Gurganus said.
It is not to say he said that Marines and other coalition forces are out of harm's way, but as an indicator, he pointed to the casualties over the last month.
"We lost one Marine compared to 21 Afghan forces," he said.
Upwards of 4,500 Marines, including the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing based at MCAS Miramar, are in Afghanistan.
As for the president's resolve to bring everyone home by 2014, Gurganus said, "It still won't be perfect by the end of 2014, but there are lots of reasons to be optimistic."
The 1st Marine Expeditionary Force is due to come home by early March.