CAPITOL HILL —
The commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan says President Ashraf Ghani has requested greater flexibility in the final drawdown of America’s military presence in the country, expected to be completed by 2017. General John Campbell appeared to confirm recent media reports that the Obama administration is looking at options to adjust the pace of withdrawal this year - while remaining firm that the military mission in Afghanistan will end on time.
The longest war in U.S. history continues to wind down, but this year’s target of reducing U.S. troop levels to less than 6,000 could be in flux, according to General John Campbell, who appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
“President Ghani is a credible and effective partner. He has asked for NATO and the United States to provide some flexibility in our planning to account for the fact that his government remains in transition. I have provided options on adjusting our force posture through my chain of command," said Campbell.
Slowing the U.S. drawdown in Afghanistan would find backing in the Republican-led Congress, where some lawmakers believe America’s withdrawal from Iraq set the stage for the rise of the Islamic State. Committee chairman John McCain warned against a repeat in Afghanistan.
“The lack of presence creates a vacuum, and we have seen what fills that vacuum in Syria and Iraq. The ungoverned spaces will allow terrorists to foment the same disaster in Afghanistan as we have seen in Iraq," said McCain.
A similar concern was expressed a day earlier by former U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Ryan Crocker.
“We have to understand that wars don’t end when we withdraw our troops. That is what our adversaries are waiting for. And I hope we maintain the requisite force levels to ensure that we are supporting the Afghan military and police," said Crocker.
The Obama administration is stressing day-to-day flexibility in pursuit of a fixed, long-term goal. White House spokesman Josh Earnest:
“The president has authorized and ordered a staged withdrawal, a responsible withdrawal of American military personnel from Afghanistan. And the president throughout that time has preserved for himself the flexibility to respond to the security situation on ground," said Earnest.
General Campbell said cooperation between the international forces and Afghanistan has improved since President Ghani assumed office and a bilateral agreement was signed allowing a continued U.S. military presence in the country. He said U.S. and NATO-trained Afghan security forces have been tested in battle, and “held their own against a determined enemy.”