(WASHINGTON) -- As commander of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan, U.S. Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford, Jr. has one of the toughest jobs in the military: preparing Afghanistan to stand on its own by 2014 when the last international troops are set to pull out of the country.
Dunford says Afghanistan isn’t yet strong enough to provide for its own security but is optimistic about the country's future.
“The conditions are not yet set for a stable and secure Afghanistan in the long term from which al Qaeda and other international extremist groups will not be able to conduct attacks on the West,” the general tells ABC News.
When asked if there's a "Plan B" in case Afghanistan isn't capable of providing for its own security by 2014, Dunford replies without hesitation that "it's going to work."
“I'm confident that we have a plan in place right now to grow the Afghan security forces to the level they need to be at in order to secure the country,” he says.
Progress has been made in pushing the violence out of Afghanistan's most heavily populated areas, Dunford touts, and says the mission now is to maintain that progress.
“The critical piece is to ensure that the Afghan security forces do have the sustainability in the future where they can continue to secure the people and allow the political transition to take place as well as development," he says.
But the challenge of maintaining security becomes more challenging as fighting season approaches in Afghanistan. Dunford is bracing for a tough fight against the Taliban.
“We’ve seen some indication that the Taliban would like to be successful this year, particularly conducting high profile attacks and assassinations of Afghan leaders to try to erode the will of the coalition,” he says, adding that “we'll be able to provide the Afghans the support they need to be successful this summer.”
Another challenge Dunford faces is securing the porous Pakistani border through which insurgents enter into Afghanistan to fight, and then retreat back across for sanctuary in Pakistan.
“Certainly not satisfied with where we are on the border right now…but I'm probably no more satisfied than my predecessors, that we've satisfactorily addressed the challenge of Pakistan,” says Dunford of ISAF’s progress in securing the border, whose predecessors include recently retired Gen. John Allen and former Gen. David Petraeus.
Dunford asserts that Afghanistan’s security is steadily improving, despite the difficulties that remain.
"I don't think we're drifting sideways, I don't think we're in a stalemate as people say," he says. "I can see the growth of the Afghan national security forces. It is real. The opportunity the Afghans have for political transition…it is up to them to seize that opportunity but they will have that in the spring of 2014."
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