Top general: Afghan forces need US troops to fight Taliban

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Support from U.S. troops is “critical” to Afghan forces’ ability to fight the Taliban and other militants, a top general said Thursday.

Testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Gen. Richard Clarke, commander of U.S. Special Operations Command, noted he recently met with his Afghan counterpart and found that “progress has been made” and that his counterpart is a “very dedicated commander.”

But, Clarke added, “I think the capabilities that the U.S. provides for the Afghans to be able to combat the Taliban and other threats that reside in Afghanistan are critical to their success.”

The assessment that Afghan forces still need U.S. military support after two decades of war comes as President Biden is deciding whether to adhere to a May 1 deadline to withdraw all U.S. troops that was set in a deal with the Taliban signed by the Trump administration last year.

Biden and other officials have not explicitly said troops will stay past May, but they have increasingly hinted that will be the case.

“It’s going to be hard to meet the May 1 deadline,” Biden said at a news conference Thursday afternoon, citing the logistics of withdrawing with just a little more than a month until the deadline. “If we leave, we’re going to do so in a safe and orderly way.”

Still, asked if U.S. troops will be in Afghanistan next year, Biden said he “can’t picture that being the case.”

“We are not staying a long time,” he said. “We will leave, the question is when we leave.”

Under the U.S.-Taliban deal signed last year, the U.S. withdrawal is supposed to be contingent on the Taliban upholding certain commitments, including breaking from al Qaeda and lowering the level of violence in Afghanistan.

U.S. military officials have repeatedly said the Taliban has yet to meet its commitments, something Clarke echoed at Thursday’s Senate hearing.

“It’s clear that the Taliban have not upheld what they said they would do and reduce the violence,” Clarke said when asked by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) about a rash of targeted assassinations of civil society leaders suspected to have been carried out by the Taliban.

“While on the positive side, they have not attacked U.S. forces, it is clear that they took a deliberate approach and increased their violence since that since the peace accords were signed,” Clarke added.

Pressed by Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) on whether he has presented the Biden administration with options to continue addressing counterterrorism threats in the region if U.S. troops withdraw from Afghanistan, Clarke demurred.

“There’s been no decision made for Afghanistan, so I think it would be a hypothetical to know what we’re going to do at this time,” Clarke said. “But we will always provide options for the Department of Defense.”

Tags Jeanne Shaheen Joe Biden Josh Hawley

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