KABUL, Afghanistan– The effort to train Afghanistan’s security forces got new leadership here Dec. 18 when Army Maj. Gen. Richard P. Formica assumed command of Combined Security Transition Command Afghanistan. Army Maj. Gen. Robert W. Cone returns to the United States after 18 months at the command’s helm.

Army Gen. David D. McKiernan, commander of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force and U.S. Forces Afghanistan, presided over the ceremony at the Kabul International Airport. The ceremony was conducted in partnership with the Afghan Ministry of Defense and Ministry of Interior. McKiernan awarded Cone with the Bronze Star Medal prior to the ceremony, and in remarks at the change of command, he congratulated Cone for the significant progress made during his tenure.

“Winning in Afghanistan is about building Afghan capability,” he said. “CSTC-A is at the forefront of building a professional Afghan national security force.”

McKiernan credited Cone with assisting the Afghan National Army’s expansion by 26,000 soldiers in the last year, tripling the growth rate of previous years. He said the ANA now leads more than 60 percent of the operations it participates in.

In August, the international community and the Afghan government approved plans to grow the Afghan National Army to 134,000 soldiers. Some 68,000 soldiers now are assigned, and Cone and ANA officials have created plans to get to the 134,000 goal by the end of 2011.

McKiernan said Cone was the driving force in the training of Afghanistan’s national police. In the last year, CSTC-A trained 25,000 police — nearly a third of its current force of 76,000 — through Cone’s highly successful Focused District Development Program, which reforms an entire police district at a time. The resulting reformed districts have proven effective in providing security for the Afghan people, McKiernan said.

Also under Cone’s leadership, the Combined Air Power Task Force and 438th Air Expeditionary Wing assisted in developing the Afghan National Army Air Corps, which now flies 90 percent of its own missions. The ANAAC transports the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police, as well as cargo, providing counterinsurgency power and mobility on the Afghan battlefield.

Cone said he came to Afghanistan focused on the mission of building the Afghan National Army and the Afghan National Police.

“We’ve made great progress on the mission, as the Afghan army and police have evolved to the forefront of forces protecting the Afghan nation,” he said. “But it is the friendships I have made with the wonderful people that I will always remember.”

Formica congratulated Cone for the work accomplished under his leadership.

“CSTC-A has a well-earned reputation for success,” he said. “It has been well-served by Major General Bob Cone, and its ranks are filled with talented and committed people.”

Formica said he looks forward to working with the ministries of Defense and Interior and with the soldiers and police of the Afghan National Security Force.

“Together, we will build capability and capacity to defeat our common enemy,” he said, “and to forge unity of effort to achieve our important objectives: the establishment of security and stability in Afghanistan.”

In an interview following the ceremony, Formica said he plans to carry Cone’s work forward.

“I intend to continue the great work that has already gone on,” he said. “There are a lot of great programs already in place for the Afghan National Army and the Afghan National Police, and we will continue to sustain and build those programs.”

One of the challenges will be to accelerate the growth for the army and the police without sacrificing standards and while ensuring capable formations to fight and defeat the enemy, he added.

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KABUL, Afghanistan– The effort to train Afghanistan’s security forces got new leadership here Dec.…