Introduction — Feb 10, 2017
Nearly three years ago the New York Times reported that President Obama announced that U.S. forces would be out of “Afghanistan by the end of 2016“.
That obviously hasn’t happened. Indeed the commander of the U.S.-led international force in Afghanistan now wants thousands more Western troops deployed.
We can only assume this is because far from eradicating the Taliban, the mujahiddieen now threaten to oust the Western backed regime in Kabul. And if that happened there is a good possibility that they would outlaw the cultivation of heroin poppies.
This happened before in July 2000 when the Taliban ruled that the cultivation of poppies was a sin against Islam. By July 2001 Afghanistan’s drugs trade was on its last legs and only western military intervention in Sept 2001 saved it. We suspect that Gen. Nicholson wants thousands more troops deployed to prevent the Taliban ousting the Western backed regime and putting an end to the lucrative drugs trade once and for all. Because when all is said and done, and although many Western military commanders would undoubtedly deny it, that’s probably the main reason for the Western military presence in the country. Ed.
U.S. General Seeks ‘a Few Thousand’ More Troops in Afghanistan
Michael R. Gordon — New York Times Feb 2017
The commander of the American-led international military force in Afghanistan, warning that the United States and its NATO allies are facing a “stalemate,” told Congress on Thursday that he needed a few thousand additional troops to more effectively train and advise Afghan soldiers.
“We have a shortfall of a few thousand,” Gen. John W. Nicholson said in a sober assessment of America’s longest war to the Senate Armed Services Committee.
The international force that is helping the Afghans currently has 13,300 troops, 8,400 of whom are American.
Afghan forces have taken heavy casualties over the last year as they have sought to hold off the Taliban and prevent them from capturing provincial capitals.
General Nicholson repeated previous assessments that the sanctuary Taliban fighters and militant groups enjoy in Pakistan remains a major obstacle. “It is very difficult to succeed on the battlefield when your enemy enjoys external support and safe haven,” said the commander, who added that the United States needed to do a “a holistic review” of its policy toward Pakistan.
The issue of safe havens in Pakistan also was discussed Thursday when the new defense secretary, Jim Mattis, spoke by telephone with Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa, Pakistan’s chief of army staff. In the conversation, “Gen. Bajwa reiterated Pakistan’s commitment to counter all militant groups operating in its territory,” according to a Pentagon statement.
In his Senate testimony, General Nicholson also complained that Russia was trying to “legitimize” the Taliban by creating the “false narrative” that the militant organization has been fighting the Islamic State and that Afghan forces have not. Russia’s goal, he asserted, was “to undermine the United States and NATO” in Afghanistan, expressing a far more skeptical view of the Kremlin’s intentions than President Trump.
On the positive side, he said, the area in which Islamic State fighters operate in Afghanistan had been greatly reduced.
General Nicholson’s argument amounted to an implicit criticism of the approach taken by former President Barack Obama, who imposed a series of rigid troop ceilings and significantly reduced the number of American forces in Afghanistan — though not by as much as he had initially projected.
But the broader question is what course President Trump might chart on Afghanistan. Senator John McCain, the Arizona Republican who chairs the Armed Services Committee, said that for too long the United States strategy had been “not to lose,” and urged that a plan be devised to break the stalemate.
General Nicholson said the administration was working on one. Michael T. Flynn, Mr. Trump’s national security adviser, served as an intelligence officer in Afghanistan. Mr. Mattis, Mr. Trump’s defense secretary, oversaw the military effort there when he served as the head of Central Command.
Mr. Trump has said little about Afghanistan, although on Thursday he held his second call since his election with Ashraf Ghani, the nation’s president.
“The two leaders spoke about the counterterrorism efforts, threat levels in Afghanistan, the capabilities of Afghan forces, as well as the risks of terrorism in the region and the countries that support terrorism,” said Nader Nadery, Mr. Ghani’s adviser on strategic affairs.
Mr. Nadery said troop levels were not a focus of the call. But Afghan officials say Mr. Ghani and Mr. Trump spoke about the possibility of increasing troop levels if a military assessment showed the need for it during their first conversation, in early December.
The war in Afghanistan is a topic the president has rarely discussed. “Hardly a word was mentioned by Trump about Afghanistan during the campaign, yet it remains one of the U.S.’s largest security expenditures,” said Daniel Feldman, who served as the senior envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan during the Obama administration.
Mr. Feldman said that a broad assessment was needed of the terrorist threat, the role of international partners and how to pursue reconciliation between the Afghan government and the Taliban. But he said there was no indication that the new administration had begun such a review.
Explaining the need for more troops, General Nicholson indicated that there were sufficient Special Operations forces to carry out counterterrorism missions. The shortfall, he said, was in those training and advising the Afghans.
Currently, advisers are mainly working with Afghans at the command level of army corps. But more advisers, he said, would enable the American-led coalition to advise at lower levels in the chain of command, most likely at the level of Afghan brigades.
The use of military advisers is generally more effective if it is not limited to advising foreign armies in their military headquarters, but extends to units in the field. The Obama administration’s decision last summer to give American commanders more flexibility to provide air support for Afghan forces fighting the Taliban also increased the need for advisers below the level of Afghan army corps, General Nicholson said.
He said that the thousands of additional advisers he was seeking could come from allied armies and did not all need to be American. But there appears to be little appetite among NATO nations to send more troops to Afghanistan.
Assessing the Afghans’ military performance, General Nicholson said Afghan forces had suffered high casualties because of poor leadership and the excessive use of checkpoints. But he underscored that he was encouraged by the leadership within the country’s special forces and increasingly in its budding air force.