WASHINGTON (June 15, 2016) —
U.S. forces in Afghanistan now will be able to boost support for
Afghan conventional forces with more firepower and by accompanying and
advising them on the ground and in the air, Defense Secretary Ash Carter
said this morning in Brussels.
The secretary spoke during a news conference after this week’s NATO defense ministers conference, his fourth as defense secretary and the last such meeting before the July 8-9 NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland.
Based on his recommendations and those of Marine Corps Gen. Joe
Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Carter said, President
Barack Obama decided to grant more flexibility to U.S. forces in
Afghanistan this year.
More Proactive Support
The new authority means U.S. troops can more proactively
support Afghan conventional forces in two critical ways: with more
American firepower, especially through close air support, and by
accompanying and advising Afghan conventional forces on the ground and
in the air, he explained.
“In practical terms, this means U.S. forces will have more
opportunities to accompany and enable Afghan conventional forces, just
like we have already been doing with Afghan special operations forces,”
the secretary said.
“As I told my fellow defense ministers,” Carter added, “this
supports our ongoing counterterrorism and force-protection missions
there [and] NATO's Resolute Support mission,
because a more capable Afghan force only makes our [deployed] forces …
more secure, and it will help the Afghans … as we prepare for the U.S.
and NATO missions in 2017.”
Carter said U.S. defense budget planning includes full
funding for Afghan national defense and security forces through 2020,
and that he learned today from NATO counterparts that they also intend
to provide funding through 2020 for the Afghan national security forces.
“Regarding U.S. troop levels for future years,” the secretary
said, “the current plan announced last August is for 9,800 U.S. service
members to remain in Afghanistan for most of this year and … to draw
down that number to 5,500 by the end of the year.”
Since then, he said, other nations also have decided to commit to having forces in Afghanistan beyond this year.
“This commitment will be part of NATO's flexible regional
approach to the Resolute Support mission,” Carter said. “The United
States will continue to lead the NATO effort in southern and eastern
Afghanistan, and we will continue to provide coalition partners with
sufficient enabling capabilities needed for their own presence,
particularly in northern and western Afghanistan.”
On the U.S.-led coalition campaign to deliver a lasting defeat to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant,
Carter said he and the ministers agreed that ISIL's parent tumor in
Iraq and Syria and its metastasis are among the leading sources of
instability emanating from NATO's southern flank.
The effort has received contributions from nearly every NATO
member, Carter added, but every nation and the NATO alliance itself need
to do more.
“At this ministerial, we discussed specific ways that NATO
could contribute more directly to the counter-ISIL campaign, including
by providing NATO [Airborne Warning and Control System] aircraft and by
conducting training and defense capacity building for the Iraqi security
forces in Iraq rather than in Jordan,” he said.
With his French and British counterparts, Carter discussed recent momentum in the counter-ISIL campaign in Iraq and Syria.
Three Major Operations
The coalition is supporting local, capable and motivated forces
on the ground in three major operations, all of which are putting a
stranglehold on ISIL and applying pressure on multiple fronts, the
“In western Iraq we're assisting the Iraqi security forces in
Iraqi operations under the leadership of Prime Minister Abadi to retake
Fallujah,” he added. “In Northern Iraq, we're also supporting the ISF in
operations to isolate and pressure Mosul.”
In Northern Syria, Carter said, the coalition is enabling
Syrian-Arab coalition forces working to envelop Manbij City, an
operation that’s critical for helping seal the Turkish border and cut
off the flow of foreign fighters in and out of Syria.
“Another challenge emanating from NATO's southern flank is the
migrant and refugee crisis, which NATO is helping address in the Aegean
Sea,” the secretary said. “Soon, the United States will be contributing
to that NATO activity by sending the USNS Grapple to support it.”