The United States will need U.S. troops to stay in Afghanistan for the foreseeable future to act as a counterterrorism force until all insurgency is removed, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said Wednesday.
Gen. Joseph Dunford told lawmakers at the Capitol that the United States will “need to maintain a counterterrorism presence as long as an insurgency continues in Afghanistan.”
The United States is in the midst of peace talks with the Taliban to negotiate an end to the nearly 18-year war.
The Trump administration hopes negotiations will lead to a withdrawal of U.S. troops in exchange for the Taliban agreeing to not harbor terrorist organizations that could threaten U.S. security, though the talks appeared to stall in recent weeks and have been met with bipartisan skepticism on Capitol Hill.
Dunford said there are still 20 extremist groups in the Afghanistan region, and “a handful” have said they want to attack the United States.
“I don’t think anybody would want to withdraw our forces from Afghanistan or the broader Middle East more than me,” Dunford told Sen. Tom UdallTom UdallOvernight Defense: Milley reportedly warned Trump against Iran strikes | Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer killed in Afghanistan | 70 percent of active-duty military at least partially vaccinated Biden nominates former Sen. Tom Udall as New Zealand ambassador Senate Democrats befuddled by Joe Manchin MORE (D-N.M.) during a Senate Appropriations defense subcommittee hearing.
“But I will share with you the advice that I’ve provided now to two presidents ... It’s my judgment today based on the threat from South Asia, that we need to continue to put pressure on those terrorist groups or they’ll pose a threat to the United States.
“I know it’s frustrating to you and the American people for us to be there for such a long period of time," he continued. "It’s just my judgment right now that the conditions for a complete withdrawal aren’t there.”
Dunford noted that about 15,000 American and 7,000 NATO forces still remain in the country and that “there are the conditions for continuing to decrease U.S. presence in the region as we have and increase the responsibility of, in this case, the Afghan forces to provide security for themselves.”
Udall had questioned Dunford and acting Defense Secretary Patrick ShanahanPatrick Michael ShanahanSenators introducing bill to penalize Pentagon for failed audits Overnight Defense: National Guard boosts DC presence ahead of inauguration | Lawmakers demand probes into troops' role in Capitol riot | Financial disclosures released for Biden Pentagon nominee Biden Pentagon pick could make up to .7M from leaving Raytheon MORE on whether they anticipated U.S. forces coming home from Afghanistan anytime soon.
Shanahan replied that the Trump administration’s current policy remains the South Asia strategy, which President TrumpDonald TrumpJan. 6 committee chair says panel will issue a 'good number' of additional subpoenas Overnight Defense & National Security — Presented by AM General — Pentagon officials prepare for grilling Biden nominates head of Africa CDC to lead global AIDS response MORE unveiled in August 2017.
“Our best chance for peace, and this is probably the best in 40 years, is taking place right now,” Shanahan said. “I would say our policy is to fight and talk. We’re fighting the Taliban, to pressure them into reduction of violence. I think we’re making progress.”
Dunford, meanwhile, said he’s “realistic” about current peace negotiations, and believes “it is the first time in many, many years where we have some opportunity now to pursue a peaceful resolution to the war in Afghanistan.”