US commander takes 'hard look' at Afghanistan

The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan is assessing whether troops should withdraw from Afghanistan in 2016 as planned by President Obama.

Army Gen. John CampbellJohn Bayard Taylor CampbellBritish authorities rule fatal stabbings an act of terror Trump courts new controversy with travel ban expansion High stakes in Nigeria's elections for impoverished citizenry — and US interests MORE told Foreign Policy he was “beginning now to take a hard look” at whether troops needed to stay longer. 


“Do I come back and do I alert my leadership and say we are coming down to this number, we need to hold a little bit longer to take advantage of some of the things that President [Ashraf] Ghani has put in place and we need more NATO forces in certain locations for longer?” Campbell said. “I've got to do that analysis and we're just starting that now.”

Obama’s plan calls for U.S. troops to stay in Afghanistan after the combat mission ends in December to train Afghan forces and continue a counterterrorism mission.

U.S. forces are scheduled to be drawn down to 9,800 by December, with roughly half that number remaining at the end of 2015. U.S. forces would then completely withdraw by the end of 2016, at the end of President Obama's time in office. 

Top Republicans on defense and foreign policy have urged the president to rethink that plan, given the deterioration of Iraqi security forces after U.S. troops drew down entirely in 2011. Republicans have blamed the problems in Iraq on the failure of the Bush and Obama administrations to reach a bilateral security agreement with Iraq that would have kept forces there longer. 

“We are witnessing now in Iraq what happens when the U.S. falters on that commitment and adopts a posture inconsistent with our security interests. I hope that the president will view the BSA as a roadmap for a robust continued engagement, and not a path to premature withdrawal,” House Armed Service Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) said on Sept. 29. 

Campbell said he has no issues with the current plan but that a delay in hammering out a bilateral security agreement between the U.S. and Afghanistan this summer might have affected the preparedness of Afghan forces. 

Campbell said Ghani feels his troops might be “six to eight months” behind schedule because of the delay. 

“Every new commander that comes on the ground has to make assessments as conditions change,” Campbell told Foreign Policy

“You've seen it in Iraq and Syria; conditions change on the ground and people have to make different decisions. That's what every commander does and that's what I'm doing,” he said.