Washington, Feb 5: With Pakistan and Taliban hedging their bets on the planned withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan, a top US commander has pushed for a long-term commitment to the war-torn country arguing that it would send "a message" to both Islamabad and the militant group.
"It (the long-term US commitment) sends a message to Pakistan, it sends a message to the Taliban, and it sends a message to NATO," said General John Campbell, the outgoing commander of the US forces in Afghanistan. Campbell, who is reaching the end of an 18-month tour in Afghanistan and is expected to retire soon, said plans to draw the current US presence of 9,800 troops down to 5,500 would leave "very limited" capacity to support local forces.
"If we talk in terms of a long-term commitment, it does a couple things. It gives confidence to the Afghan government, to the National Unity Government, to the Afghan people, to the Afghan Security Forces," he told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee yesterday.
Campbell said that publicly revealing the troop cuts could allow the enemy to "wait us out." "So again, long-term commitment, talking those kind of terms, conditions based on the ground, is the way we need to move forward to enable the Afghans to have a predictability and stability," he said.
"A lot of reason you see a lot of the refugees leaving out of Afghanistan this year is because of that instability," he said. Responding to a question on safe havens in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Campbell said the US needs to continue talking to Islamabad in this regard.
"We have to continue to work with Pakistan. Pakistan, Afghanistan have got to work together. They've got to talk military-to-military on how they can get after a common enemy that knows no border, knows no boundaries. Transnational terrorism does that," Campbell said.
Afghan forces have just completed their first full-year leading the fight against militants, including the Taliban. US and NATO forces remained in "train, advise and assist" role. But the Afghan forces also suffered major setbacks, including a brief Taliban capture of the city of Kunduz.
The fragile security situation in Afghanistan is further complicated by the emergence of Islamic State. The militant group is trying to establish a base in Nangarhar province in eastern Afghanistan, near the Pakistan border.
"Pakistan, Afghanistan have a lot of ungoverned space. This is going to be a problem for years and years and years... The one way that we can get after it is to continue to build upon the capability of the Afghan forces to fight this enemy," he said.
President Barack Obama had said he would trim the US force in Afghanistan to 5,500 troops by the end of last year, and then further cut the presence to 1,000 by the end of 2016. But he backtracked, saying the situation remained too fragile for such a rapid withdrawal.