WASHINGTON -- The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan said Thursday that he needs a “few thousand” more troops to better accomplish a key part of the mission in the war-torn country and complained that Russian meddling there is complicating the counterterror fight.
Testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Gen. John Nicholson didn’t provide an exact number, but said the additional forces are required to properly train and advise the Afghan military so they can eventually operate independently. Nicholson told the panel that the extra troops could come from the United States or from other countries that are part of the American-led coalition in Afghanistan. Nicholson said he’s discussed the need for more troops with Defense Secretary James Mattis and Gen. Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
There are currently about 8,400 U.S. troops conducting counterterrorism operations against insurgents and training the Afghans.
Nicholson also said Russia’s meddling in Afghanistan is proving to be problematic. Moscow has been publicly legitimizing the Taliban by asserting the militants are fighting Islamic terrorists while the Afghan government is not, according to Nicholson. This is a “false narrative,” he said.
Nicholson said the Afghan security forces have cut the number of Islamic State fighters by half and reduced the territory the extremists hold by two-thirds.
The Russians recently invited members of the Taliban to Moscow for meetings about the country’s future but didn’t include representatives from the Afghan government, according to Nicholson. He said representatives from China, Pakistan and other regional countries also were invited
“A peace and reconciliation process should be Afghan-led,” the general said.
The conflict in Afghanistan is its 16th year, making it America’s longest war.
Nicholson described the security situation in Afghanistan as a “stalemate.” But he said the “equilibrium favors the government.”
He also said the greatest weakness of the Afghan security forces is poor leadership. He said positions of seniority within the Afghan army and police are awarded through a system of patronage instead of merit.