By Lisa Ferdinando
ASHINGTON, October 8, 2015 — Afghanistan is at a critical juncture, the commander of NATO’s Resolute Support mission and U.S. forces in Afghanistan told a House panel here today.
Afghan forces need to be strengthened in order to meet the myriad challenges they face, including the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, Army Gen. John F. Campbell told the House Armed Services Committee.
“If we think that this is going to be cleared up in a couple of years, we’re fooling ourselves,” he said. “We have to position ourselves to ensure that we can do everything we can to mitigate this impact.”
The way to mitigate the threat is to apply pressure with the “great men and women that we have in all of our services,” and build the counterterrorism capability of Afghanistan and other countries in the region, he said.
While the Afghan army and police have engaged in tough fighting with the enemy and have proven themselves resilient, they cannot handle the fight alone at this point, Campbell said.
“Ultimately, I’m convinced that improved leadership and accountability will address most of their deficiencies. But it will take time for them to build their human capital,” he said.
The Way Forward in Afghanistan
The plan, Campbell said, is to continue to build the Afghan security forces so they can protect their people, and have a stable government that can provide for its people. “The Afghans welcome the opportunity to share their destiny, but they still desire, need and deserve our assistance,” the general said, adding, “Working together, we can be successful.”
He noted it was envisioned in 2014 the U.S. would transition to a normalized embassy presence by January 2016. But much has changed in Afghanistan since that time, Campbell said. The general, echoing what he told a Senate panel earlier this week, said he offered President Barack Obama several options for the U.S. presence in Afghanistan in 2016 and beyond.
US Presence in Afghanistan
Afghanistan has extremely limited close air support capability, Campbell said, and is up against an enemy who is taking advantage of gaps in security and the reduced international military presence.
The coalition numbered more than 140,000 military personnel a few years ago, he said. Now, there are about 14,000 coalition troops, including 9,800 U.S. service members who are serving in the NATO-led Resolute Support mission to train, advise and assist Afghan forces.
“If we withdraw from Afghanistan, the security vacuum will arise and other extremist networks such as [ISIL] could rapidly expand and sow unrest throughout Central and South Asia and potentially target our homeland,” the general said. Afghanistan would once again, Campbell said, become a sanctuary for “al-Qaida and other terrorists bent on attacking our interests and citizens abroad and at home.”
Support for Afghanistan cannot be indefinite or unconditional, he said. “The Afghans must continue to do their part, and if they do, we should continue to exercise strategic patience and sustain our commitment to them,” Campbell said.
The U.S. presence equals influence, he added, explaining, “If we’re not there to provide influence, somebody else is going to be there, whether it’s Russia, China, Iran –you name it.”
Deployed Troops Protecting Homeland
“Since 2001 the exceptional efforts and courage of our forces have ensured that another terrorist attack originating from Afghanistan and directed against the U.S. homeland has not occurred,” Campbell said.
Without their sacrifice, the people in the United States and Europe would be at much greater risk of terrorist attacks, he said. “I don’t think there is any doubt about that,” the general added.
Campbell said the service and sacrifices of coalition military personnel and civilians over the last 14 years created the conditions in which the Afghans can and are taking responsibility for their own security and governance.