Dunford addresses talk of Afghanistan pullout at holiday USO show

Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, speaks to troops gathered at a Christmas event with the USO on Monday, Dec. 24, 2018, at Camp Dahlke West in Afghanistan.


By J.P. LAWRENCE | STARS AND STRIPES Published: December 24, 2018

CAMP DAHLKE WEST, Afghanistan — The mission for troops in Afghanistan continues as planned, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said amid reports of a partial pullout from the country.

“There’s all kinds of rumors swirling around,” Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford told hundreds of U.S. troops gathered Monday at a USO celebrity holiday event. “The mission you have today is the same as the mission you had yesterday.”

The Trump administration reportedly ordered the Pentagon to make plans to withdraw some 7,000 troops from the country late last week, but Army Gen. Scott Miller, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, told local media Sunday that orders of a pullout had not yet reached the leadership here.

On Christmas Eve, Dunford told the troops at this austere base about 60 miles south of Kabul that he’d ensure their leaders got word as soon as anything changes.

“When there is something else to tell you, I’ll make sure Gen. Miller knows in real time what changes may be taking place,” he said. “Right now, you’re American soldiers, you have a mission, just get after it.”

Dunford visited Camp Dahlke West as part of the annual Chairman’s Holiday USO Tour that also included events with soldiers in Norway, Bahrain and on the aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis that deployed to the Persian Gulf earlier this month.

Celebrities such as actor Wilmer Valderrama, snowboarder and Olympic gold medalist Shaun White, and CrossFit athlete Mat Fraser accompanied him this year.

During the visit, country musician Kellie Pickler climbed into an AH-64 Apache attack helicopter with her husband, Kyle Jacobs.

“This is what I want for Christmas,” said Pickler, who later sang with soldiers.

Elsewhere on base, soldiers made the best of what they had for Christmas festivities.

Plastic Christmas trees stood in various offices and huts, but 1st Lt. Hannah Levine of Eagle Troop, 2nd Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment chose not to settle for one of those for the base’s operations center.

“I was raised in a family where we don’t believe in fake Christmas trees,” said Levine, 24, of Sugarloaf, Pa.

She brought a real, if somewhat threadbare tree to be decorated. It had been the only live tree on base, which she’d had chopped down in the holiday spirit.

“I’m a firm believer in real Christmas trees,” Levine said. “I wasn’t going to let Afghanistan stop me.”

Twitter: @jplawrence3

Spc. Adam Wells, 25, an armament soldier with the 4th Battalion (Attack Reconnaissance), 4th Aviation Regiment, watches as celebrities inspect his AH-64 Apache attack helicopter at a Christmas event with the USO on Monday, Dec. 24, 2018, at Camp Dahlke West in Afghanistan.