WASHINGTON: The commander of US and Nato forces in Afghanistan has said that he could still recommend extending the mission and keeping more troops in the country.

In an interview to the US Army Times published on Tuesday, Gen. John Campbell said the decision to extend or not to extend the US military mission in Afghanistan would depend on the situation.

“I’m taking a look and assessing every day based on the enemy situation,” he said, adding that he was also reviewing the capabilities of the Afghan security forces, the performance of the Afghan government and US efforts to train and assist these forces.

The purpose of this exercise, he said, was to determine “if we can really get after the objectives that we set.”

Gen. Campbell leads the new US and Nato mission in Afghanistan called the operation “Resolute Support”, which replaced the previous mission of engaging and defeating the Taliban and Al Qaeda terrorists.

Under the new mission, US and Nato forces in Afghanistan can still fight the enemy if confronted with a direct threat. They can also defend the government in Kabul if it faced a “strategic threat” from the enemy.

In December 2014, the Obama administration announced a plan to end its combat mission in Afghanistan but kept10,600 US troops in the country. That number will be reduced to 9,800 by May 1 and 5,500 by the end of the year, if the situation remained normal.

Gen. Campbell said it was still too early to say if he would ask for permission to keep more troops or would continue the withdrawal according to the plan.

“Do I need to go back in and say do we need longer or do we need that glide slope? I’ll continue to work that with my chain of command and the Joint Staff,” he said. “We have another fighting season to go through. We’re just learning at this reduced level. I think in the next couple of months I’ll be able to make that call”.

He criticised the media for claiming that the Taliban were winning, and said that the Taliban had failed to reach any of their strategic objectives during last year’s fighting season.

“I think they’re defeated, we’ve taken a big piece out of their political aspirations, a lot of their leadership is fractured, many of their leadership continue to not even be inside of Afghanistan,” he said.

But Gen. Campbell also acknowledged that the Taliban remained a threat.

“They have upped their game a little bit with these high profile attacks in Kabul,” he said. “Over the last couple weeks it’s gone down, but in the December timeframe there were several high-profile attacks.

“It does cause the people to have doubts about their army and their police,” he said. “But I do believe that when the Afghan forces work together, the police, the army, the [National Directorate of Security], they can’t be beaten.”

“It was not only a drawdown in equipment, a drawdown in people, a change in mission, but really a change in mindset,” Gen. Campbell said about the new mission, which began on Jan 1.

Published in Dawn January 21st , 2015

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