By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 12, 2014 – By any measure, the U.S. and NATO campaign in Afghanistan has been successful, but that success will be jeopardized if international troops must withdraw at the end of the year, said the commander of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force and of U.S. forces in Afghanistan said here today.
Marine Corps Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr. told the Senate Armed Services Committee today that operations in Afghanistan have been successful in preventing al-Qaida and other terror groups from using the nation as a haven and staging ground.
But this progress is fragile, he added, and Afghanistan will need international trainers and some counterterrorism help to maintain progress.
American and international forces have helped Afghanistan develop security forces that have taken the lead throughout the country. Afghan forces did well against a determined enemy in the 2013 fighting season and stand poised to run a safe and secure election next month, the general said.
ISAF has transitioned from a combat role to a support role, Dunford said, and the 33,600 international troops from 49 countries in Afghanistan have focused on a “train, advise and assist” mission. “Currently,” he added, “ISAF advisors are re-orienting their focus away from developing combat skills to now developing the capabilities and institutions needed for the [Afghan national security forces’] long-term sustainability.”
With none months left in the ISAF campaign, NATO and partner forces will focus on supporting Afghan forces as they prepare for the fighting season, political transition, and security transition in December, when they will assume full responsibility for Afghanistan’s security, Dunford told the senators.
Planners also will continue to posture the force in preparation for NATO’s post-2014 train, advise and assist mission, dubbed Operation Resolute Support, which will address gaps in capabilities that are necessary for the Afghan forces to become self-sustainable.
The security forces still have problems, Dunford said. In 2013, Afghan forces relied on NATO forces for enablers, particularly in close air support, casualty evacuation, logistics, and countering roadside bombs, as well as in intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, the general said. “The [Afghan forces] also suffered high casualties and instances of poor leadership, but impressively remained a cohesive and resilient fighting force,” he added.
The security forces had a very high-profile success when they secured the Loya Jirga -- a national council of community elders and leaders -- in November. The council brought 3,000 Afghan leaders to the national capital of Kabul to discuss the U.S.-Afghanistan bilateral security agreement. Terror networks and the Taliban had vowed to disrupt the meeting, but they were unsuccessful.
“On balance, after watching the [Afghan forces] respond to a variety of challenges over the past year, I do not believe the Taliban-led insurgency represents an existential threat to [the Afghan government or Afghan security forces],” Dunford said.
But NATO and partner nations must remain for Operation Resolute Support, the general said. Afghan President Hamid Karzai has refused to sign the agreement, and President Barack Obama has directed the U.S. military to develop plans for a full withdrawal from Afghanistan by the end of the year in the absence of a signed agreement.
“Without the Resolute Support mission, the progress made to date will not be sustainable,” he said. “A limited number of advisors will be required in 2015 to continue the train, advise, and assist mission.” Specifically, he said, the advisors will look at aviation, intelligence, special operations and building the capability to run security departments.
Without this help, Dunford said, Afghan forces will deteriorate. Al-Qaida and like-minded organizations would see an opportunity to again establish bases in Afghanistan, and that would be a threat to the United States and America’s national interests, the general told the senators.
Fortunately, Dunford said, all of the Afghan presidential candidates favor signing the bilateral security agreement and continued affiliation with NATO. He told the senators that he sees a force of between 8,000 and 12,000 in the country, with most involved in the train, advise, assist role and some limited counterterrorism operations.