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Senior official outlines U.S. missions in Afghanistan

By Terri Moon Cronk, DoD News

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May 6, 2016 — WASHINGTON, May 5, 2016 — U.S. forces in Afghanistan conduct missions to train, advise and assist Afghan forces as part of a larger NATO role, and conduct a unilateral U.S.-counterterrorism mission, Army Brig. Gen. Charles H. Cleveland, the Resolute Support mission’s deputy communications chief, said Thursday.

Following the April 29 release of an investigation’s results involving a mistaken U.S. airstrike on a Doctors Without Borders trauma facility in Kunduz City, Afghanistan, last October, Cleveland addressed Pentagon media by teleconference to describe ongoing U.S. missions in the country.

Numerous questions have risen since the release of the report, he said.

Some 16 service members were disciplined after the attack by an AC-130 aircraft led to the deaths of 42 people, according to earlier DoD News reports.

Reiterating U.S. missions, Cleveland said the train, advise and assist effort is to help the Afghans build an enduring, sustainable, security capability.

Afghans Must Defend Their Country

The No. 1 goal is for Afghans to be able to defend their own territory and address transnational and transregional terrorist organizations that “oftentimes will base in this region and then try and strike the West,” he said.

How to fire weaponry, fly aircraft and other essential skills are part of the hands-on training U.S. forces provide, Cleveland said.

Advising involves the coalition working with the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces in scenarios where Afghans make decisions based on their training, Cleveland said.

The assistance segment is based on financial or material support, he added.

“We conduct this TAA mission at the ministerial level; then at an operational corps and then police-zone level; and then finally we execute it at the tactical level,” Cleveland said.

Special Operations Training

Additionally, NATO has the authority for special operations capabilities in its efforts with an Afghan special operations force, he said.

“About 75 percent of the Afghan [special operations forces’] missions are conducted completely independent, with no coalition assistance whatsoever,” Cleveland said.

“Out of that remaining 25 percent, a percentage of that, we're not going into the field with them,” he said. “We're just essentially helping them with planning, intelligence, advising and those types of things.”

Counterterrorism Component

While the second component is the U.S. unilateral counterterrorism mission, forces have had the mission to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al-Qaida for quite some time, Cleveland said, while also preventing the terrorist group’s use of Afghanistan “as a launching pad from which to launch [an] attack against the West.”

The authority to also target the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant was granted in January, and he described the counter-ISIL campaign as an aggressive effort.

“We believe we really have arguably the best counterterrorism forces on the planet … here in Afghanistan,” Cleveland said.

Aggressive pursuit of al-Qaida and ISIL targets has resulted in about 100 counterterrorism strikes the first three months of this year, he said.

In April, “we've taken just under 19 counterterrorism strikes. The majority of those have been focused on [ISIL], but there have been still a few al-Qaida targets,” Cleveland said.