Abdullah says Kunduz fall shows foreign forces needed

By David Brunnstrom NEW YORK (Reuters) - Afghanistan's chief executive, Abdullah Abdullah, said on Wednesday he hoped the northern Afghan town of Kunduz would be retaken in one or two days, but said its fall to the Taliban showed the need for continued foreign support for Afghan forces. Kunduz this week became the first provincial capital to be taken by the Taliban since the hard-line Islamist movement was toppled from power in 2001. Abdullah said Afghan forces had been shouldering "a huge responsibility" in the past year since the withdrawal of the bulk of foreign troops from Afghanistan. "I hope that we will recover Kunduz soon, in the coming one or two days, hopefully," Abdullah told Reuters in New York where was attending the U.N. General Assembly and meeting Afghanistan's foreign backers. "At the same time, the need for maintaining support and sustaining support for Afghan forces is more evident," he said. Abdullah said it was up to the United States to decide whether to reconsider plans for reducing its presence. But he said: "As far as I understand, the view of all those (U.S.) Army generals and officers on the ground ... in Afghanistan, as well as our own security and military leadership, is that maintaining a level of force beyond 2016 is necessary." In May, U.S. President Barack Obama said that by the end of 2015 the American force in Afghanistan would be roughly half of the current total of about 10,000 and would operate only from bases in the capital, Kabul, and Bagram, a giant air base near that city. The plan is to reduce the force to just a few hundred by the end of 2016, mainly to protect the embassy and other U.S. interests. The Wall Street Journal reported last Thursday that U.S. and allied defense officials, increasingly wary of the cutbacks, were reviewing new options that include maintaining the current number of U.S. troops beyond the end of 2016. Asked about criticisms of himself and President Ashraf Ghani over the fall of Kunduz, Abdullah said the reasons for its capture by the Taliban would have to be looked into. "We knew that the terrorist groups as well as Taliban had concentrated in Kunduz for quite some time. And how they managed and what happened and which were the shortcomings or weaknesses that led to the fall of Kunduz, that has to be studied on its own merit," he said. Abdullah said there would be time to address the criticism. "But today is the time to unite around our security forces and back those security forces and help them in whatever way ... so the people of Kunduz are rescued." Abdullah elaborated on charges he leveled at neighboring Pakistan in his General Assembly address when he called on Islamabad to crack down on militant sanctuaries. "I would say that without (the) support the Taliban are receiving in Pakistan, the military, security situation would have been different, so it's an important issue," he said. Abdullah and Ghani were persuaded to share power after months of wrangling over a contested election last year. Abdullah took the title of chief executive, while Ghani was named president. (Reporting by David Brunnstrom; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)