WASHINGTON, Feb. 4, 2016 —
The situation is extremely complex in Afghanistan, but one simple truth is that 2016 cannot be a repeat of 2015, Army Gen. John Campbell told the Senate Armed Services Committee today.
Campbell, the commander of NATO's Resolute Support Mission and U.S. forces in Afghanistan, said the Taliban were emboldened by the U.S. withdrawal and the concomitant reduction in close air support. The Taliban “have fought the Afghan security forces very tough, and we can’t let that happen as we move forward,” he said.
Campbell told the committee that the current plan, which calls for a reduction in U.S. service members in the country to 5,500 by Jan. 1, 2017 – would limit the train, advise and assist mission in Afghanistan. “The 5,500 plan was developed primarily around counterterrorism,” he said. “There is very limited train, advise and assist [funding] in … those numbers.
"To continue to build on the Afghan security forces, the gaps and seams in aviation, logistics, intelligences, as I've talked about, we’d have to make some adjustments to that number,” he said.
Campbell said he is, of course, prepared to pare U.S. numbers in Afghanistan to 5,500 -- from about 9,800 -- by the end of the year. “I believe the right thing to do is to prepare to go to 5,500 as I am ordered, but at the same time take a look at conditions on the ground, look at the capabilities … not the number -- and to provide those adjustments to my military leadership, and then make those adjustments to the capabilities,” he said.
“If we don't have the capabilities, or if the assumptions that we made for the 5,500 plan don't come out true, then of course, we have to make those adjustments,” he said.
Any adjustments would have to be made early this year, Campbell said, and preferably before summer.
Campbell stressed that Afghanistan is not a short-term problem and that it must be viewed in years. NATO and partner nations need time to prepare troops and equipment for deployment, he explained.
A five-year cycle “gives them the ability to plan, to resource,” Campbell said. “Again, any budget one year at a time is very, very hard to do. So I think NATO's completely on board with that. All the countries continue to provide the assistance that they pledged at the Chicago 2012 conference. Again, the United States is the biggest contributor, but the NATO countries continue to provide and have done so.”
In addition to internal training requirements, the general said a long-term commitment also serves to give confidence to the Afghan government and people.
“It sends a message to Pakistan, it sends a message to the Taliban, and it sends a message to NATO,” Campbell said. “Talking those kind of terms, conditions based on the ground, is the way we need to move forward to enable the Afghans to have a predictability and stability.”