By Jim Garamone DoD News, Defense Media Activity
WASHINGTON, January 28, 2016 — President Barack Obama’s choice to take command of coalition and U.S. forces in Afghanistan told senators today that Afghan forces need improvement in some capabilities, but have performed well in battle.
Army Lt. Gen, John W. “Mick” Nicholson Jr. appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee, which is considering his nomination to succeed Army Gen. John F. Campbell as commander of Operation Resolute Support and U.S. Forces Afghanistan.
Nicholson -- currently the commander of NATO’s Allied Land Command in Turkey -- has spent years in Afghanistan and would receive a fourth star if the Senate confirms his nomination.
In his testimony, the general stressed the need for a long-term, capabilities-based U.S. presence in Afghanistan and said American security aid to the nation is rightly concentrated on the counterterrorism and the “train, advise and assist” missions.
Afghan Forces Have Been ‘Very Impressive’
Nicholson praised the fighting capabilities of Afghan soldiers. “I’ve had the opportunity to fight alongside them, and they’re very impressive,” he told the committee. “As we've seen, … this year was a tough year for the Afghan security services. They took many casualties, and this fighting has continued into the winter.”
But the Afghan army has not broken, and it is resilient, Nicholson said. “They continue to fight, and they work hard to roll back any Taliban gains,” he said.
Afghan forces have some shortcomings in areas such as intelligence collection, assessment and dissemination and Afghan air support -- both fixed-wing and helicopter, he said. “The growth of mid-level leaders at the small-unit level, where tactics matter and where we combine arms, is extremely important,” Nicholson said. “The use of indirect fire and fire support is extremely important. And perhaps one of the most critical is their casualty treatment and evacuation.”
There has been steady growth in all areas, the general said, but “in some areas we have years to go -- in particular the aviation area.”
About 9,800 U.S. service members are now in Afghanistan. This is due to drop to 5,500 by the end of the year. The general said he has not participated in discussions on troop levels, and he asked the committee for time to see for himself the conditions for the counterterrorism force and the train, advise and assist effort.
Estimating Needed Capabilities
“I view it incumbent on me, as I'm sure General Campbell has, to estimate for our political leadership the necessary capability to accomplish those two missions,” Nicholson said. “I would say is we need both of those capabilities definitely, and what I would like to do in my first 90 days is ... [to] re-look at that: what is necessary, what amount of capability is necessary given the current conditions.”
Nicholson said he anticipates working closely with Pakistani military officials, noting that the Taliban historically have taken refuge in the provinces of western Pakistan. “It’s a sanctuary that our enemies -- in particular the Haqqani network -- have enjoyed inside Pakistan,” he said.
The Pakistani military has made recent progress, but that has blown hot and cold, the general said. Nicholson cited different levels of effort and different offensives in parts of the tribal areas inside Pakistan. “I note that the Pakistanis have also suffered significant casualties in the tens of thousands in terms of their security forces and their civilians -- most recently, these horrendous attacks on schools that have occurred inside Pakistan,” he said.
Pressure on Haqqani Network
“Yet at the same time, … we’ve not been satisfied that there's adequate pressure put on the Haqqanis,” he continued. “The recent operations in northern Waziristan have helped, as well as stationing of additional regular army soldiers in tribal areas have helped. Some of this has pushed some fighters into Afghanistan.”
In his opening statement, Nicholson thanked the president and Defense Department leaders for their confidence in him. He said it would be “a tremendous honor” to follow Campbell in the position.
The general also paid tribute to service members. “Their selfless service to our country and to each other is a testament to the strength of our military and our nation,” he said. “I especially wish to honor the sacrifice of our service members who have died in this noble effort. I also wish to remember the Afghan soldiers, Afghan police and countless Afghan civilians who have suffered so greatly in this conflict.”