KABUL — The top commander of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan said Sunday that this year’s pullout of 23,000 American troops is at the halfway mark. But he cautioned against putting too much emphasis on the drawdown, saying that foreign troops will fight through 2014 when the NATO combat mission ends — and beyond, reported Washington Post, quoting him as saying in an interview with an American news agency.Gen John Allen said Afghan security forces were increasingly taking the lead but needed more confidence in planning and executing missions. He said the drawdown of 23,000 troops this year, now slightly more than half completed, will accelerate in the coming few months.“The preponderance still remains to go out,” Allen said. “August will be the heaviest month. A lot is coming out now and a great deal will come out in August and early September. We’ll be done probably around mid-September or so.”Allen said this summer’s offensive operations were aimed at pushing insurgents farther from population centers, expanding the security zone around the capital, Kabul, and getting more Afghan forces into the lead in the east, including along Afghanistan’s border with Pakistan. In addition to repositioning Afghan and foreign forces on the battleground, military and police advisers are moving in to work with Afghan forces going forward.President Barack Obama pulled out 10,000 US troops from Afghanistan last year and ordered another 23,000 to be withdrawn by Sept 30. That will leave roughly 68,000 troops still in the country. By Oct 1,40,000 NATO forces will also still be fighting with some 352,000 Afghan troops.Excess military equipment and materiel also has started flowing out of the country. To get all the excess out by the end of 2014, Allen said either a shipping container or a vehicle will have to be moved out ‘every seven minutes between now and then’.However, he said it would be a mistake to focus too much on the exit of troops and equipment.“The stakes are very high. The fact that we were attacked on the 11th of September (2001) is a direct line relationship between what happened on that day and what could happen again if we don’t get this right,” Allen said. “I think an awful lot has gone in during the last several years into getting this right. It’s not going to end at the end of 2014.” Between one third and one half of the 23,000 troops being pulled out are combat forces, he said. Small numbers are being pulled from the relatively stable northern and western parts of the country. Some will be withdrawn from the east and the south “and a good bit in the southwest,” he said.Southwestern Afghanistan includes Helmand province, an area where the Taliban has some of its strongest roots.US, NATO and Afghan forces have worked the past two years to improve security in Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand province. The NATO mission has focused on population centers and this summer troops are going after insurgents outside the cities.“Much of the offensive operations that we’re undertaking now are seeking to push them out farther,” he said of fighting under way in Helmand and neighboring Kandahar province in the south.“If you look at the 10 most violent districts, almost all of them are in the south or the southwest,” he said. “But it constitutes a relatively small part of the population of Afghanistan overall, “ he added. “We want to continue to push the insurgency increasingly out of the population centers into areas where they can be isolated, where they can be disrupted, where they can be rendered irrelevant,” he said. “And that’s the nature of the operations that are under way now.”US, NATO and Afghan forces also are working in the east to stop the infiltration of insurgents crossing the border from Pakistan to Afghanistan, expand the security zone around Kabul in Wardak and Logar provinces, just south of the capital, and improving security along highways extending southward from the capital.In the northeast, coalition and Afghan forces are conducting extensive operations in Kunar and Nangarhar provinces — areas where Al-Qaeda and other transnational militants are active.