By Cheryl Pellerin DoD News, Defense Media Activity
WASHINGTON, December 19, 2015 — After a summer of hard fighting, the Afghan army is working to gain skills they’ll need to continue the battle against diverse adversaries, the commander of the NATO Resolute Support Mission and U.S. Forces-Afghanistan said yesterday.
Army Gen. John F. Campbell spoke in Bagram, Afghanistan, with reporters traveling with Defense Secretary Ash Carter, noting that Carter and acting Afghan Defense Minister Mohammed Masoom Stanekzai had met with him earlier for what he called a very good bilateral meeting.
Carter is on a weeklong trip to the Middle East to meet with defense leaders, and thank U.S. and coalition troops for their service and sacrifice, especially during the holiday season.
Campbell, who’s been on the ground in Afghanistan for 17 months, said the Afghan army had just been through a tough fighting season.
A Tough Year
“We don't even talk in terms of fighting seasons anymore because it's kind of continuous fighting, but it was a very tough year,” he said.
The Taliban fought hard, and the Afghan forces were resilient, but their casualties were high because, Campbell said, they were “out there fighting for the most part on their own.”
Still, he added, the Taliban were unable to meet any of their strategic goals. -- They took over Kunduz temporarily, but the Afghan forces continued to fight and took it back.
Now, Campbell said, during a lull in fighting that occurs when snow in the mountains closes some of the passes between Afghanistan and Pakistan, the Afghan forces are focusing on some needed skills.
“They want to get after a force-generation cycle where they have forces that can train, that can fight and get on lead. They haven't been able to do that other than with their special operating forces,” the general said.
They'll also work on checkpoint reduction, aligning their forces to become more maneuverable, Campbell said, “because right now they're very static. That's where they've taken a lot of their casualties, on checkpoints, so they're going to work on those.”
The Afghan forces also will work on building leadership and putting the right people in place, he said, noting that they're “in the middle of what we would call a pre-command course.”
The U.S. Army does pre-command courses for battalion and brigade commanders, Campbell said, and a pre-command course was in session as he spoke for the Afghans’ Kandak battalion commanders that was in its second week.
“They're taking that time to develop their leadership,” the general said, “and we’ll run [a pre-command course] for brigade commanders here very soon.”
The Afghan forces and the NATO coalition forces are looking hard at the lessons taken from the very tough fighting season of '15, Campbell said.
“We'll make adjustments off that and then get ready for continued fighting here in '16,” he added. “The Taliban, al-Qaida, Haqqani -- all those insurgent networks continue to morph together.”
Campbell said he believes Afghanistan will need U.S. and international community support for many years.
“The difference between where we were a couple of years ago and where we are today is that you have a national unity government with President [Ashraf] Ghani and Dr. [Abdullah] Abdullah that wants our support [and] international community support,” the general said.
Work to Do
“They are going after things that we've asked them to go after -- [fighting] corruption and building a strong army,” he added.
“They've got a lot of work to do,” Campbell noted, adding, “they know that and they're going to continue to get after it.”
Campbell said one reason the Taliban fought so hard this year was to try to show that they are in control and that if the country ever began the reconciliation process, they wanted to be able to negotiate from a position of strength.
“They know that our forces were drawing down and at the same time they knew the Afghan forces would be out there on their own for the most part, and they've tried to take advantage of that,” Campbell said.
ISIL in Afghanistan
“I'm very proud of what the Afghan forces have accomplished, and they continue to work on areas that are very tough for any army -- logistics, intelligence, close air support,” he added.
Among the adversaries the Afghan army is fighting is the Islamic state of Iraq and the Levant, also known as ISIL, or Daesh in the region.
ISIL has been around for the last year or so in different parts of Afghanistan, Campbell said.
“Over the last five or six months it's coalesced here in Nangarhar and Kunar … [and] they've been fighting pretty hard,” he added.
Campbell said the Taliban has been fighting ISIL for the last several months and the Afghan security forces have watched and planned operations against the terrorist army.
“In all of Afghanistan there are probably 1,000 to 3,000 ISIL fighters,” he said, noting that it’s hard to determine the exact number.
At this stage ISIL is operationally emergent, the general added.
“It doesn't have the capability, I believe, to go to Europe and attack Europe or go to the homeland at this point, but if it’s left unchecked it will,” he said.