Dunford travels to Brussels to ask NATO to send more troops to Afghanistan

Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford listens to opening statements at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Capitol Hill, Sept. 22, 2016.


By TARA COPP | STARS AND STRIPES Published: May 12, 2017

This story has been updated.

WASHINGTON — The United States will ask other NATO countries to send thousands of additional troops to Afghanistan to help train and advise Afghan forces and assist the U.S.-led counterterrorism effort there, the top U.S. general said this week.

Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will travel to Brussels on Monday for meetings with the defense chiefs of the other 27 NATO countries. He plans to make the case to alliance members that it is critical to increase military pressure against the Taliban and other terrorist groups operating in Afghanistan to prevent the country’s security from deteriorating further.

The request for more troops is to help meet unfulfilled NATO requirements in Afghanistan identified by Army Gen. John Nicholson, the commander of the alliance’s train-and-advise mission there, Dunford said.

“There are two missions there – there’s the counterterrorism mission and then there’s the training mission, obviously a NATO mission,” Dunford said. “NATO…didn’t meet the full [requirement].”

As of March, there were 13,459 troops in Afghanistan supporting the train-and-advise operation, known as Resolute Support. The 27 other NATO nations provided 4,876 troops combined to Resolute Support, while the United States contributed 6,941 troops, according to alliance data. Another 1,642 troops were provided to the mission by nations that are not part of NATO.

”The optimal NATO mission was going to be 15,000,” Dunford said.

In addition, the United States contributes about 2,000 troops to Operation Freedom’s Sentinel, the counterterrorism operation against al Qaida, the Islamic State and other terrorist groups in Afghanistan.

Dunford said NATO also could be asked to contribute troops to the counterterrorism mission.

He had said previously that he and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis had initially thought the Pentagon would present its 2017 Afghanistan plan to President Donald Trump prior to the Brussels meeting. But the meeting with Trump has not occurred yet, said Navy Capt. Greg Hicks, a spokesman for Dunford.

More so, the request for additional NATO support will go beyond more troops and defense leaders at the Brussels meeting will also look to identify other ways that countries can contribute to the missions in Afghanistan, Dunford said.

“We’re looking at a way of achieving an effect,” he said. “And this is not just in the context of how many forces are needed. This is analyzing what were the factors [that led to] Afghan security forces casualties last year and challenges they had from the Taliban. So, first look at that and say what are the range of things we could do.”

Hicks said, for example, a NATO member might contribute aircraft that can bolster overhead firepower or provide additional surveillance to the Afghan army, instead of sending more troops.

The new plan for Afghanistan could also include allowing advisers to be inserted into smaller-sized units of advancing Afghan forces on the ground, Dunford said. Up to this point, advisers have been teamed with larger conventional Afghan forces or smaller special operations units.

“Gen. Nicholson has expeditionary advisory packages – advisers, joint tactical air controllers, security people, helicopters – so it’s a package – it can go wherever he wants it to go,” Dunford said.

After 16 years of fighting in Afghanistan, Dunford acknowledged war fatigue is an issue facing the United States and NATO countries when deciding to send more troops to the country.

“We can be tired, but war is a clash of wills,” he said. “Who wins and who loses? Who loses is whose will is lost first. And I think what we need to be mindful of is not how long we have been there, but what’s the remaining threat to the United States and coalition partners.”

Twitter: @TaraCopp

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