KABUL, AFGHANISTAN—Admitting he hasn't been following combat operations all that closely lately, Gen. John R. Allen, the top commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, told reporters Monday he has "no idea" how the war is going and, at this point, is trying to ignore the whole situation as best he can.
"As far as I know, we're still slowly making progress with our counterinsurgency efforts against the Taliban, but to be honest, I haven't been keeping up with all that stuff and couldn't really say for sure," a shrugging Allen told reporters at NATO headquarters in Kabul. "It's not really part of my day-to-day anymore, so I can't help you out with any specifics on current missions or casualty figures or anything like that. It's really not where my focus is at right now."
"Sure, I hear things about ongoing operations here and there," the four-star Marine Corps general continued. "But for the most part I’m pretty much checked out of this one."
Allen, who commands more than 130,000 coalition troops and possesses full oversight of the combat mission in Afghanistan, confirmed he attends multiple briefings on the status of insurgent movements each week, but stated "they all kind of blur together after a while" and nowadays he simply prefers to tune them out.
Questioned about last week's deadly attack by the Taliban in Bamian Province, Allen responded by asking whether that was the bombing at the American military checkpoint or "one of those police station ones," and then acknowledged he was "probably not the best guy to ask about that sort of thing." Pressed about tactics, Allen conceded he wasn't certain exactly where his forces were currently deployed, but suggested all inquiries be directed toward one of his lieutenants, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, or "the British commander, maybe," as one of them was probably handling such matters now.
Additionally, the general said that if reporters really needed a high-level source on an important war-related matter, they should "just go ask the president."
"These days, unless there's something going on that's monumentally important, my staff knows not to come to me," said the man in charge of the 50-nation International Security Assistance Force. "I do check with my advisers every month or so to see if there's anything new going on here in Afghanistan, but honestly, there never is. It's usually the same old, same old—market bombings, militants infiltrating the Afghan security forces, helicopter crashes. By now the guys here can handle all that without my help."
Admitting he no longer arrives for work at NATO's Kabul headquarters before noon, Allen said he typically leaves most of the routine decisions on military offensives and drone strikes up to others, because many of the newer individuals on his staff seem to take a greater interest in the conflict and are still eager to do "all the typical war stuff" that Allen flatly stated he’s tired of dealing with.
The general claimed he now skips over any news article that mentions the word "Afghanistan" and barely skims the many combat reports and e-mails he receives from the Pentagon, saying they seldom have any new or helpful information to add regarding the 11-year-old conflict.
"You know, after so many high-profile Taliban prison escapes and accidental civilian deaths, you kind of just throw up your hands and say, 'All right, you got me,' and then move on to something else," Allen said. "So I've taken a step back, and now I see myself as more of a consultant who just gives general advice on the war now and then."
"Frankly, there's not much more I can do out here, anyway," he added.
At press time, after being notified of a massive, coordinated attack on the American embassy in Kabul, Allen stared blankly at his staffers for several moments, eventually telling them to do whatever it was they did last time that happened.