Commander: More NATO trainers needed
STUTTGART, Germany — U.S. lawmakers expressed frustration Tuesday that NATO countries were not offering more personnel to train the Afghan army.
Members of the Senate Armed Services Committee grilled the alliance’s top military leader, Adm. James Stavridis, during his visit to Capitol Hill, questioning him about a shortfall of NATO troops to carry out the mission.
Committee Chairman Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., said the Afghan force is growing faster than the coalition’s ability to train them.
"NATO members are falling short once again," Levin said. "It’s almost unbelievable to me we can’t get NATO allies to carry out that [training] commitment."
Stavridis admitted that a recent force-generation conference in Belgium left the alliance short by about 700 trainers.
"That is more than disappointing. It is unacceptable," Levin said in his statement.
And with the Dutch poised to pull out their 2,000 troops this year, the actual NATO shortfall will soon be in the range of 2,700, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., noted.
"So we’re really not on track then," McCain said.
"We will continue to hammer away at this until we fulfill this commitment," Stavridis, who also serves as commander of U.S. European Command, told the committee.
Stavridis also faced questions about the performance of Afghan security forces in the volatile southern part of the country.
He said there are signs that Afghans are taking on more responsibility, showcased most recently in the ongoing offensive against the Taliban in Helmand province.
"I am satisfied with the progress of the Afghan National Army and overall its performance has been effective in Marjah," Stavridis told lawmakers. "We’re seeing them in the fight."
Stavridis, along with Gen. William E. Ward of U.S. Africa Command and Joint Forces Commander Gen. James Mattis, appeared before the committee for annual testimony on the range of threats facing the country.
Ward told lawmakers that AFRICOM will continue to focus on its main mission: helping African militaries develop more capacity to provide for their own security.
Of particular concern are al-Qaida connected groups in northern and eastern Africa, Ward said.
"We certainly see indications of al-Qaeda in Africa," said Ward, who stopped short of saying the terror group is growing in number. But "based on what they are saying, they are seeking to expand their influence."
In response to a question from McCain, about whether AFRICOM should have a headquarters on the continent, Ward said such a move is unnecessary and could bring unwanted negative reactions.
"It would be more counterproductive than productive," Ward said. "Many unintended consequences would fall out from that kind of a move."