Joint Chiefs chair floats longer military presence in Afghanistan

Joint Chiefs chair floats longer military presence in Afghanistan
© Getty Images

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.”

ADVERTISEMENT

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 UdallThomas (Tom) Stewart UdallDemocrats, environmentalists blast Trump rollback of endangered species protections Republicans should get behind the 28th Amendment New Mexico says EPA abandoned state in fight against toxic 'forever chemicals' 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 ShanahanWhy Dave Norquist is the perfect choice for DOD's deputy secretary Five questions for Trump's new defense secretary on first major tour Trump says media is part of vetting his nominees: 'We save a lot of money that way' 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 John TrumpTrump pushes back on recent polling data, says internal numbers are 'strongest we've had so far' Illinois state lawmaker apologizes for photos depicting mock assassination of Trump Scaramucci assembling team of former Cabinet members to speak out against Trump 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.”