The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan on Tuesday said the security situation in the region is so volatile that the Obama administration should delay plans to draw down troop numbers and keep as many American forces there as possible through 2016.
In an interview with USA Today, Army Gen. John F. Campbell said that maintaining the current force of 9,800 U.S. troops to assist Afghan forces is vital, and that the scheduled reduction to 5,500 by Jan. 1 2017, should be delayed as long as possible.
“My intent would be to keep as much as I could for as long as I could,” Gen. Campbell said by telephone from Kabul. “At some point it becomes physics. I’m going to have to get them out.”
As American troops drew back in Afghanistan this year, turing their daily combat missions over to Afghan security forces, Taliban militants have stormed multiple cities, including the norther provincial capital of Kunduz, which was later re-taken by U.S. forces, and the southern Helmand province.
Last week a Taliban suicide bomber killed six U.S. airmen outside Bagram Air Base.
Pentagon officials provided a bleak assessment of the security situation in the region, noting in their quarterly assessment that “he second half of 2015, the overall security situation in Afghanistan deteriorated with an increase in effective insurgent attacks and higher (Afghan security force) and Taliban casualties.”
Gen. Campbell will travel to Washington soon to brief senior leaders on the security situation and offer recommendations.
He did not offer specifics on those recommendations, but said “Some of them will not go over well with people. Some of them will get approved,” according to USA Today.
In October, President Obama announced that he would delay plans to withdraw all but embassy personnel by the end of 2016, leaving current troop numbers at 9,800 through 2016 and drawing down to 5,500 in 2017.
But Gen. Campbell said he would not hesitate to ask for more troops in Afghanistan if necessary. He has also commanded all NATO forces there since Aug. 2014.
“My job as commander on the ground is to continually make assessments,” Gen. Campbell said, USA Today reported. “Every time I’ve gone to the president and said, ‘I need X,’ I’ve been very, very fortunate that he’s provided that. So he’s been very flexible. It’s actually been conditions based as we’ve gone forward.
“If I don’t believe that we can accomplish the train, advise and assist and the (counter-terrorism) missions, then I owe it to the senior leadership to come back and say, ‘Here’s what I need.’ If that’s more people, it’s more people.”