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 said foreign troops will fight through 2014 when the NATO combat mission ends — and beyond.
In a wide-ranging interview, US General 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 Kabul, the capital, 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.
On Sunday, a person wearing an Afghan national security force uniform turned his weapon against civilian contractors with the US-led military coalition, killing three.
NATO said the attack occurred in western Afghanistan but disclosed few other details. The gunman was killed during the attack . No further information about the civilians who died was released.
Five NATO service members also were killed in roadside bombings the past two days. Three of the attacks occurred in the east and two in the south. NATO provided no further details.
President Obama pulled out 10,000 US troops from Afghanistan last year and ordered another 23,000 to be withdrawn by Sept. 30.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 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.
Between one-third and one-half of the 23,000 troops being pulled out are combat forces, Allen 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Some will be withdrawn from the east and the south and a good bit in the southwest, he said.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.