Afghanistan: US commander questions withdrawal

The top international commander in Afghanistan, US Army Gen. John Campbell, is assessing whether more coalition troops should remain in the country beyond the Obama administration's current plans for a "complete withdrawal" in 2016. In a phone interview from Kabul with Foreign Policy (Nov. 3), Campbell said he was "beginning now to take a hard look" at what effect delays in concluding a US-Afghanistan bilateral security agreement have had on the preparedness of the Afghan military in the face of a resurgent Taliban. "Do I come back and do I alert my leadership and say we are coming down to this number, we need to hold a little bit longer to take advantage of some of the things that President [Ashraf] Ghani has put in place and we need more NATO forces in certain locations for longer?" Campbell said. "I've got to do that analysis and we're just starting that now."

Last month US Marines and British troops withdrew from highly conflicted Helmand after closing Camp Leatherneck and Camp Bastion. The US had about 19,650 troops in the country as of Oct. 28 and the rest of the coalition had another 10,460. The US troop presence is set to decline to 9,800 at the start of 2015. But the Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) found in a quarterly report to Congress last month that insurgent attacks are at the highest levels since 2011; the Afghan army has sustained heavy combat losses and is experiencing high attrition rates; and opium poppy cultivation has more than doubled from its pre-1999 levels when the Taliban ruled the country.