The general in command of U.S. forces in Afghanistan told senators today that the fall of Kunduz was “absolutely” a victory for the Taliban and President Obama needs to reconsider troops levels there in the face of ISIS’ rise.
Gen. John Campbell told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the coalition was “surprised” when the Taliban were able to take over Kunduz, the fifth largest city in Afghanistan, late last month.
“A lot of reasons why the Afghans are taking a hard look…part of the reason, they didn’t have key leaders in place,” he said. “The city for the most part had police, the Afghan army was on the outskirts. They did not reinforce. Bottom line, the Taliban were able to come in and attack from within the city, and quite frankly surprised the police forces that enabled the Taliban to gain a great victory.”
While the Taliban publicly hailed the seizure as a gain for the long haul, Campbell said, “I don’t think the Taliban had intent to stay in Kunduz for very long.”
“As soon as the Afghan forces were able to bring additional forces in, logistically resupply that, the Taliban for the most part melted away, left the city. There are small isolated pockets that they continue to fight.”
After 2016, Obama plans to take the U.S. presence in Afghanistan down to an embassy security force of 1,000. Currently, the U.S. troop level is 9,800.
Campbell said ISIS setting up shop in the country “has further complicated the theater landscape and potentially expanded the conflict.”
“Afghanistan is again at a decisive point. The president is well aware of the tenuous security situation and I also appreciate that he has other global issues to weigh as he considers my recommendations,” he said, stressing he was “unable to discuss further details on the options as I have provided to the president.”
“In the past, when flexibility has been requested of him, he took it under serious consideration and made his decision. He provided flexibility this year. The same decision process is being worked through now for 2016 and beyond… If a security vacuum arose, other extremist networks, such as Daesh, would also rapidly expand and so unrest through Central and South Asia and potentially target our homeland.”
Campbell said the ISIS fighters there are partly “disenfranchised Taliban that maybe see Daesh as a way to gain more media, more resources, so they kind of changed T-shirts, raised a different flag.”
“A lot of” Pakistani Taliban are also joining ISIS in Afghanistan, he added.
The general also discussed the weekend bombing of a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz.
“We have U.S. Special Forces on the ground. They’re doing train-advise assists with our Afghan partners. Our Afghan partners called for fire. The U.S. aircraft delivered those munitions,” Campbell affirmed.
Asked by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) if he’d agree with Doctors Without Borders’ call for an international investigation of the incident helmed by an “independent” body such as the United Nations, the general that he has “trust and confidence in the folks that will do the investigation for NATO, the folks that will do the investigation for DOD and the Afghan partners.”
“We are reaching out again to Doctors without Borders and the personnel on site. Making sure that we get all sides of the story. I did talk to the investigating officer this morning. He has done that. He talked to a few. He is continuing to try to get out to locations where he can talk to doctors, nurses, survivors of that and make sure he gets all that story. And we will certainly share all of that,” Campbell said.
The general also confirmed that Afghan women have been embedded in the Afghan special operating units equivalent to the Army Rangers driving the Taliban out of Kunduz. “I do believe that having the ability to have Afghan females embedded in the special operating units provide them a unique capability” to communicate with women at the site of mission objectives, he said. “…They have some of these females also inside of their commando units so this is quite good.”