July 20, 2015 —
KABUL, Afghanistan, July 20, 2015 – The commander of NATO’s Resolute Support mission and U.S. forces in Afghanistan said Afghan President Ashraf Ghani wants to be a partner with the United States in a regional counterterrorism aspect.
Army Gen. John F. Campbell said Ghani has suggested Afghanistan host a regional counterterrorism effort. Afghan counterterrorism forces are among the best in the region, the general said, but they still need training and equipment.
“He wants to continue to build that capability and knows that he needs our help to do that,” Campbell said in an interview Sunday with reporters traveling with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey.
Ghani also is reaching out to other regional players including China, Russia, Iran, Pakistan, India, “the ‘Stans” and the United States, Campbell said. His message is that terrorism is a regional threat and it needs to be fought on a regional basis. “He is saying to them, ‘Afghanistan is fighting your fight,’” the general said.
Afghanistan is about halfway through the 2015 fighting season, and Campbell said he is weighing his best military advice to U.S. leaders at the conclusion of this campaign.
About 9,800 U.S. service members are in Afghanistan today. Plans originally called for a reduction to 5,500 earlier this year, but Ghani appealed to President Barack Obama to maintain the level of troops through the fighting season – the first with Afghan national security forces totally in the lead. Obama agreed, and he asked Campbell to reassess the situation at the end of the fighting season.
“We’re looking at the state of the national unity government and the state of the Afghan security forces,” the general said. He will also look at the set and basing of American forces in the country, he said, and “then I have to look at the state of the insurgency.”
His recommendation will go through U.S. Central Command to the Joint Staff, the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the National Security Council before reaching the president. “I think it is still too early to make a recommendation,” Campbell said.
The appearance in Afghanistan of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant is worrisome and puts a new wrinkle of his deliberations, the general said, noting that the terror group has attracted some violent and vicious adherents since it first appeared last year. “Late last year, we first started hearing about ISIL, and in the last six or seven months, there is a drumbeat that has continued to grow,” Campbell told reporters.
The areas of concern are in Nangahar, Farah, and northern Helmand. Campbell said ISIL adherents are battling the Taliban in Nangahar.
“We said the ISIL threat was nascent, but now I would say it is probably operationally emergent,” Campbell said, adding that Ghani believes it is a potential threat to Afghanistan.
The Afghan president said if al-Qaida was Windows 1.0, then ISIL is Windows 7.0, the general said. “He knows [ISIL] has the ability to move very quickly, and he wants to make sure he’s putting systems and processes in place to build his capability,” he said.
Looking ahead, Campbell said, he believes that about 60 to 70 percent of those who adhere to Taliban groups probably will reconcile with the Afghan government. “Thirty to 40 percent are not reconcilable, including the Haqqani network,” he said. “So what happens if the Taliban starts reconciling? Do these other guys go over to [ISIL]? That’s an issue.”
The Taliban are not going to take over Afghanistan, Campbell said, nor will ISIL. “They are not an existential threat to Afghanistan at this point,” he said. “Could they become that down the road? I don’t know.”