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General discusses Afghan forces, security, ISIL threat

By By Cheryl Pellerin, DoD News, Defense Media Activity

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WASHINGTON, Aug. 14, 2015 - Afghan forces are fully responsible for their nation's security but still need and deserve the broad support of U.S. and coalition forces under NATO's Resolute Support mission, the Resolute Support deputy chief of staff for communication said here Thursday.

U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Wilson A. Shoffner briefed the Pentagon press corps live from Kabul by telephone, discussing Afghan forces, the 2015 fighting season, Afghanistan security, and the movement of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant into Afghanistan with fighting between ISIL and the Taliban.

Afghan forces, Shoffner said, have "definitely been tested this fighting season, but they're holding their own and they have demonstrated their courage and resilience. Every day we see the remarkable men and women of the Afghan security forces, all of whom are volunteers, continuing to put their lives on the line to protect their people and their country."

But it's clear that they "still require broad support, and that's one of the reasons why the Resolute Support mission remains critical," he added, noting "capability gaps" in close air support, aviation, intelligence and logistics, and that the fighters will require help "over the next few years."

During the current fighting season, Afghan forces have learned hard lessons but achieved significant results, the general said.

"They've conducted deliberate, planned operations that are well resourced and they've performed very well," Shoffner said. "We've seen this starting in January in Helmand province [in southwest Afghanistan], we saw that in Zabul province and Ghazni [in southeast Afghanistan], and we've seen that in the last two weeks in Nangarhar province [in the east]."

On the downside, he added, "whenever they employ their forces hastily or do so in an uncoordinated manner -- and by that I mean the army doesn't coordinate with the police ... or with air or fire support -- they're far less effective."

In terms of security in Afghanistan, the general said the number of enemy-initiated attacks for 2015 is 8 percent lower than it was last year, but Afghanistan is experiencing an increase in the use of homemade bombs and high-profile Taliban attacks in Kabul.

"Kabul remains an area of strategic importance for the insurgency as a ... symbol of the government of Afghanistan's authority," he said. "The [Taliban] attacks are an attempt to garner widespread coverage that ... leads to a perception that the Afghan government is unable to provide adequate security."

Shoffner said the Afghan government has a delegation in Pakistan now, "and we're watching that closely, we're watching the Taliban closely. He added that the Taliban, many of whom are Afghans, have an opportunity now to strike for peace with the Afghan government and rebuild their own lives in Afghanistan.

The Afghan government has invited the Taliban to join it as part of the political process, and the general said the Resolute Support mission strongly supports the Afghan government in that action.

"We stand with the international community and support any outcome that the Taliban or any armed opposition group may use to pledge to end violence, to break associations with international terrorism and to accept the Afghan constitution," Shoffner said.

In response to a question about the movement of ISIL into Afghanistan, Shoffner said their presence is an issue of great concern to the Afghan government.

ISIL is also an issue of great concern to the coalition, he added, noting that the coalition and Afghanistan share intelligence and information on ISIL.

"We categorize [ISIL] in Afghanistan as operationally emergent," the general said. "We do not see them as having operational capabilities so we do not see them as having the ability to coordinate operations in more than one part of the country at a time. We do have reports of them operating in different parts of the country but not in a coordinated fashion."

Shoffner said that some funding is flowing to ISIL in Afghanistan, but not a significant amount, and that their capabilities are increasing but not to the point where they can conduct the sort of operations they're responsible for in Iraq and Syria.

"We do note the potential for them to evolve into something more dangerous," he added, "and we take that very seriously."

Shoffner also said there is some fighting in Afghanistan between ISIL and the Taliban.

"Usually this is a result of [ISIL] incursion into Taliban territory and interfering with established Taliban operations," he said, noting that fighting between the groups has been seen in Nangarhar province, northern Helmand and elsewhere, with the most intense fighting in Nangarhar.

"We do expect to see this throughout the fighting season," the general said, adding that fighting between the insurgent groups in Afghanistan isn't a positive thing for the nation or the coalition.

"It's a problem because it's a destabilizing influence and ... unfortunately the victims are Afghan civilians, so that's a security issue that we are committed to helping the Afghan government resolve," he said.

"[ISIL] and terrorism pose a common threat to all the states in this region, so it's not just an Afghan problem, it's a regional problem [and] we support the government of Afghanistan ... to work with other national partners to contain and dismantle this threat."