NEW YORK - The commander of American and allied forces in Afghanistan has underscored the need for the presence of US troops in war-torn country post 2014.

“Afghan forces are now leading the fight here. They managed an air assault last week, for example, and they may be winning the respect of the Afghan people. But the bottom line for Gen Joseph F Dunford Jr is simple as he says Afghanistan still needs the United States and will for years to come,” The New York Times cited the commanding general as emphasising during the course of an interview with the newspaper in Kabul.

Dunford said, “Americans will not be fighting and dying here after 2014. Afghans are already doing most of the fighting, and by the end of next year ‘the actual fighting on a day-to-day basis will all be done by Afghans’.”

Still, he said in an interview with the Times, “Afghan forces, at the end of 2014, won’t be completely independent. Our presence post-2014 is necessary for the gains we have made to date to be sustainable.”

American forces will be critical behind the scenes for at least another three or four years, he said, to help Afghans master the nuts-and-bolts of running a military: logistics, intelligence analysis, developing the air force. “We’re not talking about putting people on the ground, in harm’s way,” General Dunford.

The general spoke as the United States’ continued involvement in Afghanistan is becoming increasingly unpopular. An ABC News/Washington Post poll released last week found that only 28 percent of Americans think the war is worth fighting.

Among the developments from Afghanistan that are fuelling the disillusionment was a botched effort by the United States to open peace talks with the Taliban, which prompted President Hamid Karzai to angrily suspend negotiations on a long-term security deal that would keep Americans here after 2014.

Then there was the anti-American tirade by Karzai’s chief of staff, and an ugly spat over whether the United States should pay Afghanistan $70 million in fees to get its equipment out of the country.

The response within the Obama administration has been a renewed debate on the so-called zero option - pulling out all American troops when the NATO combat mission here ends next year. Congress has also jumped into the fray with a Senate measure to withhold $5 in aid for every $1 Afghanistan charges the United States to move the equipment.