Stay up to date with notifications from The Independent

Notifications can be managed in browser preferences.

Top US commander in Afghanistan tells troops 'we are with you' with Trump set to address nation

Mr Trump to speak to nation's troops and the American people to update the path forward in Afghanistan and South Asia

Sunday 20 August 2017 22:05 BST
Comments
A US Air Force MQ-9 Reaper drone sits on the tarmac at Kandahar Air Field in Afghanistan
A US Air Force MQ-9 Reaper drone sits on the tarmac at Kandahar Air Field in Afghanistan (REUTERS)

Signalling that the military expects its mission to continue, the top US commander in Afghanistan has hailed the launch of the Afghan Army's new special operations corps, declaring that “we are with you and we will stay with you.”

General John Nicholson's exhortation of continued support for the Afghans suggested the Pentagon may have won its argument that America's military must stay engaged in the conflict in order to insure terrorists don't once again threaten the US from safe havens in Afghanistan.

The White House announced that President Donald Trump would address the nation's troops and the American people on Monday night to update the path forward in Afghanistan and South Asia.

General Nicholson, speaking prior to the White House announcement, said the commandos and a plan to double the size of the Afghan's special operations forces are critical to winning the war.

“I assure you we are with you in this fight. We are with you and we will stay with you,” he said during a ceremony at Camp Morehead, a training base for Afghan commandos southeast of Kabul.

The Pentagon was awaiting a final announcement by Mr Trump on a proposal to send nearly 4,000 more US troops to Afghanistan. The added forces would increase training and advising of the Afghan forces and bolster counter-terrorism operations against the Taliban and an Isis affiliate trying to gain a foothold in the country.

The administration has been at odds for months over how to craft a new strategy for the war in Afghanistan amid frustrations that 16 years after 9/11 the conflict is at an impasse.

The Afghan government only controls half of the country and is beset by endemic corruption and infighting. Isis has been hit hard but continues to attempt major attacks, insurgents still find safe harbor in Pakistan, and Russia, Iran and others are increasingly trying to shape the outcome. At this point, everything the US military has proposed points to keeping the Afghan government in place and struggling to turn a dismal quagmire around.

US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis said he is satisfied with how the administration formulated its new Afghanistan war strategy. But he refused to talk about the new policy until it was disclosed by Mr Trump.

He said the deliberations, including talks at the Camp David presidential retreat on Friday, were done properly.

“I am very comfortable that the strategic process was sufficiently rigorous,” Mr Mattis said, speaking aboard a military aircraft on an overnight flight from Washington to Amman, Jordan.

Months ago, Mr Trump gave Mr Mattis authority to set US troop levels in Afghanistan, but Mr Mattis said he has not yet sent significant additional forces to the fight. He has said he would wait for Mr Trump to set the strategic direction first.

Mr Trump wrote on Twitter on Saturday that he had made decisions at Camp David, “including on Afghanistan,” but he did not say more about it. The expectation had been that he would agree to a modest boost in the US war effort, while also addressing broader political, economic and regional issues.

Mr Mattis said Mr Trump had been presented with multiple options. He did not name them, but others have said one option was to pull out of Afghanistan entirely. Another, which Mr Mattis had mentioned recently in Washington, was to hire private contractors to perform some of the US military's duties.

At Camp Morehead, lines of Afghan commandos stood at attention as Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani and a host of proud dignitaries sat under flag-draped canopies and welcomed the advancement in their nation's long-struggling military.

In short remarks to the force, General Nicholson said a defeat in Afghanistan would erode safety in the US and “embolden jihadists around the world.”

That's why, he said, the US is helping to double the size of the Afghan commando force, adding that the ceremony “marks the beginning of the end of the Taliban.”

Majar General James Linder, the head of US and Nato special operations forces in Afghanistan, said the nearly 4,000 troops requested by the Pentagon for Afghanistan includes about 460 trainers for his staff to help increase the size of the special operations forces.

He said he'd be able expand training locations and insure they have advisers at all the right levels, including on the new Afghan special operations corps staff.

According to a senior US military officer in Kabul, increasing the number of American troops would allow the military to quickly send additional advisers or airstrike support to two simultaneous operations. Right now, the official said, they can only do so for one.

The officer said it would allow the U.S. to send fighter aircraft, refuelling aircraft and surveillance aircraft to multiple locations for missions. The officer was not authorised to discuss the details publicly so spoke on condition of anonymity.

Afghan military commanders have been clear that they want and expect continued US military help.

Pulling out American forces “would be a total failure,” Col. Abdul Mahfuz, the Afghan intelligence agency chief for Qarahbagh, north of Kabul, said on Saturday. And he said that substituting paid contractors for US troops would be a formula for continuing the war, rather than completing it.

Col. Mahfuz and other Afghan commanders spoke at a shura council meeting at Bagram air base attended also by US military officers and Afghan intelligence officials.

Col. Abdul Mobin, who commands an Afghan mechanised battalion in the 111th Division, said any reduction in the US military presence “leads to total failure.”

Speaking through an interpreter, he added that operations by Afghan and US special operations forces have been very effective, and that “the presence of US military personnel is felt and considered a positive step for peace.” He said he'd like to see an additional 10,000 American troops in the country.

Associated Press

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in