The top US military commander in Afghanistan told lawmakers Feb. 9 that he needs several thousand additional troops to break "a stalemate" in the 15-year-old war against the Taliban and other insurgents. Gen. John Nicholson told the Senate Armed Services Committee that more troops could come from the US or other NATO members, and would be tasked with training Afghanistan's security forces to provide better offensive capabilities. Under questioning by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), the general said did not need 50,000 troops in the country, but did not rule out the potential for up to 30,000. There are currently some 8,400 US troops in Afghanistan, with 38 other NATO members providing about 6,300 troops.
Nicholson also accused Russia of working counter to US efforts in Afghanistan. "When we look at Russian and Iranian actions in Afghanistan, I believe that they are in part there to undermine the United States and NATO and prevent our strong partnership that we have with the Afghans in the region," Nicholson said. He noted that Russia has hosted Taliban leaders in meetings about Afghanistan's future without inviting either the Kabul government or US to participate. Nicholson said this could give the Taliban "legitimacy" in the world's eyes.
Russia is said to view the Taliban as the only gorup in Afghanistan capable of beating back ISIS, which Moscow fears could infiltrate post-Soviet Central Asia. Nicholson dismissed this concern, asserting that US-backed Afghan forces who have successfully pushed ISIS into a small area within eastern Nangarhar province. (Stars & Stripes, Feb. 9)
But two audacious ISIS attacks in recent days took place outside Nangarhar. The International Committee of the Red Cross is halting work in Afghanistan after six of its workers were killed in a presumed ISIS ambush at Shibergan in northern Jawzan (Jowzjan) province on Feb. 8. (BBC News, Feb. 9; ICRC, Feb. 8) ISIS also took credit for a Feb. 7 suicide attack outside Afghanistan's supreme court building in Kabul, which killed at least 20 people and wounded dozens more, including children. (LWJ, Feb. 8; Stars & Stripes, Feb. 7)