Marine Corps General and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joe Dunford explained to the media on Tuesday that no decision has been made yet as to whether the U.S. will increase its troop commitment to the fight against Muslim extremists in Afghanistan.
Dunford spoke to the press from Israel, where he was presented the Medal of Appreciation for strengthening ties between the U.S. and Israel by Israeli army Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, the chief of the General Staff for the Israel Defense Forces.
According to Dunford, national security officials have yet to approach President Trump with a request for an increase in troops in Afghanistan, despite Army Gen. John M. Nicholson, the commander of Operation Resolute Support in Afghanistan, describing the current situation as a “stalemate” with Taliban and ISIS forces months ago.
“One of the key discussions we are going to have is what are the horizons for the mission in Afghanistan and how do we articulate it,” Dunford said in an interview. “I expect [Defense] Secretary [Jim] Mattis and I, and others, will brief the president, soon.”
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani announced a “four year plan” late in 2016, which laid out goals intended to help establish a stable and secure Afghanistan. According to Dunford, Nicholson was tasked with using this plan to assess what type of military investment the United States needs to make in order to support Afghan security forces in accomplishing their goals. Those recommendations have been completed and submitted to the Pentagon where they are being reviewed by top defense officials.
“It is fair to say that we have looked at all the potential ways to accelerate the campaign and meet President Ghani’s objective outlined in his four-year plan,” Dunford said.
In Nicholson’s testimony before Congress, he requested an increase in troop numbers in order to serve as advisors at lower levels of leadership within the Afghan defense forces, but was clear that those troops don’t necessarily need to come from the United States. An influx of troops from other NATO member-states would suffice, as he believes he already has enough U.S. Special Operations troops to conduct necessary combat ops.
The President is said to have already discussed this possibility with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, who is rumored to have already begun discussions with other troop-contributing nations within the alliance. Dunford himself will be in Brussels next week to speak with his fellow defense chiefs from other NATO nations, and Secretary of Defense James Mattis is currently traveling as a part of a three-nation tour that includes discussing counter-ISIS operations with American allies in Europe.
“I know from personal experience that the pressure we put on al-Qaida and those terror groups every day for the last 16 years is the reason they have not regenerated and conducted attacks,” Dunford said. “I also know they have aspirations to conduct attacks, and an ungoverned space in Afghanistan or South Asia would be contrary to our interests.”
He went on to infer that the United States may soon be looking to wane operations in Afghanistan, possibly after a troop surge helps to eliminate the estimated 800 ISIS fighters located in the country, as well as numerous Taliban sects still engaging in terrorist activity.
“We can be tired, but war is a clash of wills,” the chairman said. “Who wins and who loses? Who loses is [he] whose will is lost first. What we need to be mindful of is not low long we’ve been there, but what is the remaining threat to the United States and coalition partners.”
“It’s pretty clear to me that Afghanistan could possibly be a place where there are proxy wars with various regional actors, as well,” he said.
Dunford closed his statements by indicating that, with international cooperation, the Afghan government will not end up fighting Islamic extremism on their own any time soon.
“The first two seasons the Afghans have been providing security on their own, it has been a pretty tough fight,” Dunford said. “But if there is an extended commitment by the international community that says we are prepared to do what has to be done as long as it takes to get the Afghans where they need to be … that’s a different story.”
Image courtesy of the Department of Defense