The new South Asia strategy should break the stalemate in Afghanistan and make the United States, its allies and its partners more secure, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told the Senate Armed Services Committee Oct. 3.
Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford told the panel he agreed with the NATO commander in Afghanistan, Army Gen. John W. Nicholson, that the effort in the country was stalemated. He noted that Defense Secretary Jim Mattis had said the coalition in the country was not winning.
This situation developed after the NATO Resolute Support mission in the country transitioned from the International Security Assistance Force to an advisory effort.
“Since January 2015, we have advised and accompanied Afghan special operations units at the tactical level, but our advisory effort for conventional forces has generally been limited to the Afghan corps and institutional level,” the general said in testimony. “We also reduced the aviation, artillery and intelligence support provided to the Afghan forces.”
The conventional forces did their best, but they weren’t prepared to succeed in combat against the Taliban, al-Qaida and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, Dunford said. “My military assessment is that we drew down our advisory effort and combat support for the Afghan forces too far and too fast,” he told the senators. “As a result, the Taliban expanded territorial and population control and inflicted significant casualties on the Afghan army and police, while the campaign lost momentum.”
Soon after taking office, Mattis asked for a detailed review of operations in the country and for officials to determine the root causes for the lack of progress in Afghanistan. “And he directed we provide targeted solutions,” the chairman said. The result was a new operational approach designed to break the stalemate.
“The new approach supports the president’s broader strategy by expanding our advisory efforts to the tactical level, increasing the combat support we provide through our Afghan partners and enhancing authorities to our commanders,” Dunford said.
The construct is designed to improve the ability of Afghan forces to conduct offensives, defend critical areas and reduce the casualties they are taking. “The emphasis is on providing effective support to the over 300,000 Afghans we have trained and equipped, so they can secure their own country,” the chairman said.
The plan follows Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s plan to reorganize the Afghan force. This will mean expanding the nation’s special operations capabilities while reducing less-effective units. “We will also continue our efforts to develop a capable and sustainable Afghan air force,” the general said. “Finally, we’ll enhance and expand our own counterterrorism operations in the region.”
This means that experienced, senior coalition leaders will be advising Afghan commanders where it will do the most good — at the brigade or even kandak level. Under the previous operational construct, advisers would limited to the corps level.
Taking fight to enemy
“Their efforts will be fully enabled by the support and authorities needed for the Afghans to take the fight to the enemy,” the general said. Coalition nations will provide air support, intelligence expertise, command and control capabilities, logistics and other help as needed.
“As we implement the strategy, we’re also tackling corruption, the single greatest roadblock to progress,” Dunford said.
The military objectives are clear and achievable, the general said. This, he added, should “defeat ISIS and al-Qaida in Afghanistan and ensure other terrorist groups are unable to launch attacks against the homeland, U.S. citizens or our allies; further develop Afghan forces that are capable of managing residual violence with limited international support; support President Ghani’s effort to secure key population and economic centers; and provide an enduring counterterrorism partnership with Afghanistan to protect our shared interests in South Asia.”
This is aimed at showing the Taliban that the Afghan government has partners who are committed to the effort for the long run, the chairman explained. The enemy needs to understand they cannot win a battlefield victory, he added, and that it is in their best interests to join the Afghan government in building a new nation.