No one is satisfied with a stalemate in Afghanistan and NATO defense chiefs in Brussels examined proposals that would increase the number of NATO and partner troops in the country, and to change the way those troops are employed.
Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters traveling with him yesterday that Army Gen. John W. Nicholson, the commander of the Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan, briefed the defense chiefs of the NATO Military Committee via video from his headquarters in Kabul.
The chiefs of defense collectively have a common understanding of what happened in Afghanistan since 2016, when the Afghan National Security Forces took responsibility for protecting their country.
“The Afghans have been in the lead for the last two years, taking casualties and demonstrating some strengths, but in other areas demonstrating they need more work,” Dunford said.
Nicholson testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee in February warning that the conflict in Afghanistan was turning into a stalemate. Nicholson said he would need more troops than the 13,000 he currently has to end the stalemate. The general did not cite a number.
President Donald J. Trump will decide on U.S. options for Afghanistan by the end of the month, according to Army Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, the national security adviser. Trump and his fellow NATO leaders will meet next week in Brussels and the troop commitment in Afghanistan is one of the issues they will discuss.
“[The chiefs’] understanding of where we are in the fight right now is consistent with mine and General Nicholson’s, so everybody agrees that we want to do better,” Dunford said. “We want to mitigate the risk of casualties; we want to give the Afghans a competitive advantage over the Taliban.”
Nicholson’s plan is based on the goals of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s four-year plan. Among the economic and political milestones in the plan is a security goal pushing for national forces to protect 80 percent of the population of the country. The plan “provides a useful way to think about this as political leadership contemplates the commitment,” Dunford said.
The chairman would like NATO allies to examine what Nicholson has requested in the plan and look at those requests through the unique capabilities each country brings to the fight.
The chiefs also discussed changing the way service members are employed in Afghanistan. Currently, they do most of the advise and assist mission at the Afghan corps levels. “We talked today about the need to provide advise and assist below the corps level,” the general said. This would move advisors to the brigade or even kandak (battalion) levels.
Nicholson has an expeditionary advise and assist capability, Dunford said. This allows him to move forces to where he believes it is necessary. “He has the flexibility to do that now,” Dunford said. “What we’re doing is increasing the capacity of his expeditionary advise and assist so he can be in more places at one time.”
Terrorist Threats in Region
The United States has national interests in success and peace in Afghanistan, Dunford said. There is still a terrorist threat in the region, he added.
Al-Qaida planned and resourced the attacks on 9/11 from their sanctuary in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. Ungoverned area attract these groups and there are still 18 or 19 different terrorist groups operating in South Asia “that have indicated a willingness, if not a capability, to attack the West,” Dunford said.
An ungoverned or a Taliban-governed Afghanistan would pose a danger to the United States and its allies, Dunford said.
Keeping people safe from terror attacks is a national priority, the chairman said. So is “creating stability to mitigate the refugee flow from places like Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq and so forth,” he added, “to keep the talent of Afghanistan in Afghanistan to move that country forward.”
The mission in Afghanistan will end when the underlying conditions that feed extremism and instability are resolved, the chairman said. Even then, the United States will continue to have enduring interests and influence in the region, Dunford said.
In the future, that influence and presence may take the form of diplomatic missions or economic interests.
“But right now, and for the foreseeable future, there’s a military dimension to the influence we have to maintain in South Asia to mitigate those two primary threats and afford the Afghans the opportunity to develop effective governance and get their country back on track,” the chairman said.
“War is a clash of wills,” he said. “And at the end of the day, to be successful you have to have more endurance than the opposition.”
(Follow Jim Garamone on Twitter: @GaramoneDoDNews)