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Despite Gains, Afghanistan Will Require Long-Term US Aid: General

In this Oct. 6, 2015, file photo, U.S. Forces-Afghanistan Resolute Support Mission Commander Gen. John Campbell listens as he testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)
In this Oct. 6, 2015, file photo, U.S. Forces-Afghanistan Resolute Support Mission Commander Gen. John Campbell listens as he testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)

The senior U.S. commander in Afghanistan on Tuesday rejected lawmakers' comparison of that nation's forces with those of Iraq, where an army built and trained under American tutelage collapsed when confronted by Islamic State militants.

"The Afghans are fighters, they have a different sense of pride, I think, of nationalism in their country," Army Gen. John Campbell told a House Armed Services Committee. "In Iraq, it was about Sunni, Shia, Kurd issues. In Afghanistan, they see themselves, although of different tribal affiliations, [as] one Afghanistan force fighting for their country, fighting for their survival."

He added, "They will not do what happened in Iraq based on what's coming from their heart, from Afghanistan, to protect their country."

When militants affiliated with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, alternately called ISIL and Daesh, swept into north and western Iraq in 2014, the largely Sunni Iraq army in the region in some cases fled without a fight.

Campbell, a four-star general who is also scheduled to meet this week with the Senate Armed Services Committee, is expected to retire soon. Army Lt. Gen. John "Mick" Nicholson has been nominated by President Barack Obama to succeed Campbell.

Campbell said the Afghan government and its security forces made progress last year, notwithstanding there are areas held or influenced by either the Taliban or ISIS.

"The units we have on the ground throughout the country report that of the 407 district centers, 8 are under insurgent control," he said. "We assess that another 18 are under what we call insurgent influence." Another 94 district centers could be considered "at risk" of insurgent control or influence at any given time, he said.

But Campbell said the numbers also make clear that about 70% of the inhabited parts of Afghanistan are under government influence or government control.

With some 9,800 troops now serving in Afghanistan, a number slated to drop to about 5,500 by the end of 2015, some lawmakers expressed concern the U.S. is headed for a repeat of Iraq, where following the withdrawal of American troops from the country in 2010 the government grew increasingly sectarian and security forces failed to stand up against ISIS when it advanced on the country.

Campbell did tell Congress that the U.S. needs to make a solid commitment to Afghanistan's military and its economy if the mission is to succeed.

"Now more than ever, the United States should not waiver on Afghanistan," he said, calling the military and economic assistance a "crucial investment" intended to achieve U.S. goals of securing the U.S. and positioning it well in a region long a source of terrorism and instability.

Campbell said U.S. and partners are now developing five-year vision for Afghanistan in order to affect long-term plans and "avoid a year-to-year mentality."

At the same time, U.S. assistance will go beyond the five-year plan to at least 2024, he said.

The U.S. currently pays about $4.1 billion annually to cover the security forces -- salaries of police and army, equipment and ammunition, he said. He said it's not likely Afghanistan economy will be able to cover these costs until about 2024, he said.

-- Bryant Jordan can be reached at bryant.jordan@military.com. Follow him on Twitter at @bryantjordan.

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