General John W. Nicholson Jr, commander of the American-led international military force in Afghanistan, told Congress on Thursday that he believes the ongoing fight against the Taliban in Afghanistan to be at a “stale mate.”  In order to effectively train and advise the Afghan military, Nicholson believes a surge of thousands more international fighters is necessary.

The General appeared before Congress to provide an objective assessment of how the fight against the Taliban is progressing, and he did just that, explaining to congress that current operations are hindered by shortages in personnel and the Taliban’s ability to seek refuge and regroup inside the borders or neighboring Pakistan.

“It is very difficult to succeed on the battlefield when your enemy enjoys external support and safe haven,” he said. “We need to do a holistic review of our Pakistan policy.”

He also chided the Russian government for “legitimizing” the Taliban by inviting their representatives to the Russian capital and encouraging a false narrative that suggests that the Taliban is fighting against Islamic terrorists in the region.  The General went so far as to say that Russia’s efforts were a direct effort “to undermine the United States and NATO in Afghanistan.”

Among Nicholson’s other concerns was a lack of strong leadership within the Afghan military.  An issue he believes to be caused by senior positions being awarded through a system of patronage rather than making appointments based on skill set and merit.

According to General Nicholson, there are enough American Special Operations forces in the country to carry out their counter-terrorism mission, but the force is experiencing severe shortfalls in the number of troops needed to train and advise the Afghan military.  He continued that the troops don’t have to be sourced from the United States military, and could potentially come from another NATO nation.

American troops were reduced in Afghanistan under the Obama administration.  President Obama placed a series of troop count “ceilings” on Afghanistan operations during his presidency, a policy General Nicholson was openly critical of during his testimony to Congress.

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Currently, NATO military advisors are primarily working with high-level leaders within the Afghan military, but General Nicholson suggested that an increase in the number of troops in the country would allow for advisors to assist in lower levels of the chain of command, in particular, the Afgan brigades.

The use of American air support in the fight against the Taliban has also increased the necessity for advisors to provide the appropriate training to Afghan fighters in the field, as a mistake when calling in for air support could result in coalition deaths and a failure to complete objectives.

Although Nicholson described the current situation as a “stale mate,” he did offer some bits of good news.  According to the General, the Taliban has been left with a severely limited amount of space to operate freely in Afghanistan.

There are currently around 8,400 American troops deployed there carrying out counter-terrorism operations and advising the local military, though it is now likely that a request for additional troops may reach President Trump’s desk in the very near future.

 

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