General: Afghan forces not ready to take on fight themselves

General: Afghan forces not ready to take on fight themselves
© Greg Nash

Gen. John CampbellJohn Bayard Taylor CampbellHigh stakes in Nigeria's elections for impoverished citizenry — and US interests North Carolina county school board ends spanking policy General: 'Afghanistan is at an inflection point' MORE, the commander in charge of the U.S.-led NATO coalition in Afghanistan, told a Senate panel on Tuesdaythat Afghan forces aren't yet ready to fight for themselves.

"Afghan security leaders need to discern better when to fight, when to hold and when to assume risk," Campbell told the Senate Armed Services Committee.

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The commander, who is testifying days after U.S. airstrikes hit a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz, also confirmed that he is providing options to President Obama that could keep U.S. troops in Afghanistan longer than 2016, when they are now scheduled to leave.

Senators from both parties signaled they would support changes to the current drawdown plan.

Campbell said conditions on the ground have changed since President Obama announced the end of the combat mission in 2014. The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria has risen as a new power, and the Taliban has shown new resiliency in Afghanistan, taking the city of Kunduz last week.

He said President Obama is aware of the "tenuous situation."

Campbell has reportedly drafted five drawdown options, including reducing the 9,800 troops in Afghanistan to 8,000, cutting the force in half or sticking with the president’s plan.

"I do believe we have to provide our senior leadership options different from the current way we’re going," said Campbell, who declined to confirm the specific options he suggested.

Afghan President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani has asked for coalition forces to stay in the country, Campbell said.

Still, he said, U.S. support should not be indefinite or unconditional.

But should the United States stick to its plan right now of reducing forces to an embassy presence, Campbell said, U.S. troops would have limited capability to continue to train and assist Afghan forces and be unable to conduct counterterrorism operations.

Campbell said he does not believe the Taliban would be able to retake the whole country, but could have some successes.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the panel's chairmen, reiterated his concerns that withdrawing from Afghanistan would lead to the same chaos now plaguing Iraq.

“If we have learned anything from that nightmare, it is that wars do not end just because politicians say so,” he said.

McCain was also concerned that Campbell suggested more than one option for the drawdown, directing his frustration at Obama.

“I don’t understand why this administration doesn’t understand that if we do what is presently planned to happen three months from now we will see the Iraq movie again,” he said.

The administration has argued that Iraq deteriorated due to the sectarian policies of former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and that keeping U.S. troops there would not have mattered. Critics say the presence of U.S. troops would have helped keep pressure on Maliki and improved the quality of Iraq’s military, which the U.S. spent millions of dollars training.

One difference from Iraq, Campbell said, is the security forces in Afghanistan are not divided by the same sectarian strife as those in Iraq.

Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), the ranking member of the committee, expressed concerns about worsening situations in Afghanistan over the last few months.

“I strongly believe that the U.S. force posture in Afghanistan going forward should be shaped and resourced to enable you, general,” he said, “to achieve your missions’ objectives based on conditions on the ground.”