By Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone C. Marshall Jr.
American Forces Press Service
DEAUVILLE, France, June 10, 2014 – NATO’s supreme allied commander for Europe expressed confidence the new Afghan president will be a willing partner in making better opportunities for his people, which begins with signing the bilateral security agreement that would allow U.S. forces to remain in Afghanistan beyond the year’s end.
Air Force Gen. Philip M. Breedlove, who also commands U.S. European Command, spoke to American Forces Press Service last week while he was here to participate in the commemoration of the D-Day invasion’s 70th anniversary.
The general said he is “extremely confident” that Afghanistan’s new president will sign the agreement. The winner of the election will be announced July 22.
“Both of the leading candidates have said they will sign it within a week, which is good news,” Breedlove said. “We need to move on and get the momentum back that this sort of stagnant political process had … set over what’s going on there. Now we have, what I think will be, a willing partner in the next Afghan president -- whichever one it is. And that will make the opportunity for the Afghan people only that much better.”
The general noted he already has planned for all options and is prepared to implement whichever is necessary.
On May 27, President Barack Obama announced that pending a signed bilateral security agreement, nearly 10,000 U.S. service members would remain in Afghanistan in 2015 and that nearly all U.S. forces will leave the country by the end of 2016.
“NATO asked me, and I did, plan for all the way through the zero option” of all coalition forces leaving Afghanistan when the current NATO-led mission ends there Dec. 31, Breedlove said.
“Our teams have planned it out,” the general said. “We’re ready to go there if we have to. We have pretty detailed plans for several options in between zero and what was just announced.”
Flexibility is part of the equation, Breedlove said, but the focus now is the remainder of the International Security Assistance Force mission. If the security agreement is signed, Operation Resolute Support would replace the ISAF mission.
“We have seven more months of ISAF,” he said. “The combat mission is still on for seven months, even though we are primarily in the [train, advise and assist] mission. So we need to get the most we can out of this last seven months and set ourselves up well” for addressing the shortfalls in the Afghan national security forces during Resolute Support.
Obama’s recent announcement that 9,800 troops would maintain a post-2014 presence in Afghanistan “will allow us to do the mission that we need to do,” Breedlove said.
“We asked for a little more,” the general added, “but I think that this is a reasonable number. … And it will allow us to do the train-advise-assist mission down to the corps level, and I think that’s very important at this point.”
Breedlove also expressed confidence in Afghanistan’s army and its continued progress.
“We try to keep connecting this army and its senior leaders into the [Defense Ministry] so that it can sustain,” he said. “I think this army, from the senior leaders on down, is really proving itself. Now we’ve got to help that infrastructure that connects to the army be successful as well.”