Army Gen. John F. Campbell will face a nomination hearing Thursday to take over command of U.S. forces in Afghanistan as the U.S. threatens to cut off aid and security assistance to the fracturing Kabul government.
In a brief statement when President Obama nominated him last month to lead the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), Campbell said he looks "forward to serving alongside our Afghan and coalition partners as we continue operations in Afghanistan."
At the moment, Campbell cannot be sure whether he will have a mandate to partner with the Afghans as the two candidates in the presidential run-off election – Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah --dispute the results amid charges of fraud.
Initial results showed Ghani, a former finance minister, far ahead but Abdullah declared himself the "rightful" winner and suggested that he might form a "parallel" government.
Secretary of State John Kerry warned in a statement Monday that "Any action to take power by extra-legal means will cost Afghanistan the financial and security support of the United States and the international community." Kerry was expected to go to Kabul on Friday in an attempt to resolve the dispute.
"This election puts Afghanistan on the precipice," said Bruce Riedel, director of the Intelligence Project at the Brookings Institution and a former CIA analyst.
Unless the electoral dispute is resolved quickly, Reidel said he would not be surprised to see Afghanistan "split apart."
Campbell, 56, currently the Army’s vice chief of staff, has been nominated to succeed Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford at ISAF. Dunford has been nominated to succeed retiring Marine Gen. James Amos as Marine Commandant.
The choice of Campbell, a 1979 West Point graduate with two previous tours in Afghanistan, will be one of three nominations to crucial high command posts that will be considered Thursday at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing.
Army Lt. Gen. Joseph L. Votel has been nominated for promotion to four-star general and to take over the Special Operations Command from Adm. William H. McRaven, who has held the position since August 2011.
Obama also has nominated Adm. William E. Gortney to become the next commander of U.S. Northern Command, replacing Army Gen. Charles H. Jacoby.
At Obama’s direction, Dunford has set ISAF on a course for the withdrawal of all U.S. and NATO combat forces by the end of this year.
In May, Obama outlined a plan to keep 9,800 U.S. troops in Afghanistan in training and advisory roles in 2015. The number of those troops would be halved in 2016 and there would be no U.S. troops in Afghanistan in 2017 other than Embassy security troops under Obama’s plan.
However, that plan was contingent upon the Afghan government signing a new Bilateral Security Agreement for the presence of U.S. troops. President Hamid Karzai has repeatedly refused to sign, but both Abdullah and Ghani said they would sign if they won the election.
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org