BAGRAM AIR BASE, Afghanistan, December 8, 2015 —
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff thanked service members and civilians here for their service in Afghanistan, saying their sacrifices have prevented another attack on the homeland.
U.S. Marine Corps Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr. told troops in an airplane hangar for the USO Holiday Tour that al-Qaida has not mounted another attack on the United States because of the pressure put on the terror group.
This was Dunford’s first trip to Afghanistan since he became chairman in October 2015. He commanded NATO’s International Security Assistance Force from March 2013 to October 2014.
Dunford received a campaign update from Army Gen. John Campbell, the commander of NATO’s Resolute Support Mission. The chairman said he’s encouraged by signs of progress.
Resilient Afghan Forces
The biggest change is with Afghan security forces themselves, Dunford said. “When I took command in March of 2013, we had over 100,000 U.S. forces here,” he said. “We have less than 10,000 here today. Those 10,000 are enabling over 350,000 Afghan security forces.”
The general did not sugarcoat the challenges that remain. Terrorists in Afghanistan, he said, have “rebranded” themselves with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant tag, and they are receiving money and communications from core of ISIL.
Dunford said the Afghans face a tough fight still, but the Afghan army and police have proven resilient. “When ground has been taken, they went back and retook it,” he said.
The U.S. goal for years in Afghanistan was to train and equip an Afghan force capable of defending the nation. This has happened, the general said.
U.S. troops are in Afghanistan to provide the limited capabilities Afghan forces still need, Dunford explained, and he and Campbell discussed the lessons learned from the campaign this summer and what work remains to be done with Afghan security forces.
Developing Afghan Capabilities
That work includes developing Afghan aviation capabilities, and building up the logistics and maintenance infrastructure, Dunford said.
Building an Afghan air force is a complicated and long process, the general said, noting it’s not enough to simply buy planes or helicopters. Governments need to ensure the infrastructure is in place when the aircraft arrive, he said. Is the fueling capability ready? Are their aircraft maintenance personnel certified? Who fixes the avionics? Who loads ammunition aboard? Who flies the aircraft?
All these questions have to be answered before there can be an effective capability, Dunford said.
Pilots for Afghanistan’s close-air support helicopters – the MD-530 – for example, began training in the United States in September 2014 to be ready when the helicopters arrived in Afghanistan in the spring.
Logistics is another long pole in the tent, the general said. It simply takes time to develop the processes, train the workers and build the warehouses and set up the procedures to maintain and supply an army and constabulary fighting a war, Dunford said.
But all this is worth it to the United States in the long run, the general said. Afghanistan can become “an effective counterterrorism partner in the region and an effective counterterrorism platform,” he said.
“We have risks here in the region to the U.S. homeland, our allies and our interests,” Dunford added, “and our partnership with the Afghan forces is, in my mind, an insurance policy against attacks against the United States.”
The United States has interests in the region, “and they are directly and inextricably linked to our protection of the homeland,” he said.
(Follow Jim Garamone on Twitter: @garamoneDoDNews)