Afghanistan’s presidential election may be taking the country to the brink, but the US army general nominated to helm the terminal phase of America’s longest war sees nothing but “good news”.
“Everything I see, sir, is good news, and that we’re on a good road, but we just have to get through this kind of 50-meter target and get through the election, identify the president,” General John “JC” Campbell, the army’s vice-chief of staff, told the Senate armed services committee on Thursday.
That as yet unresolved presidential election, marred by allegations of fraud, threatens to upend the entirety of post-Taliban Afghanistan, undermining a fragile governance system built and maintained by the US over 13 years, at the cost of hundreds of billions of dollars and the lives of 2,200 troops. On Monday, as supporters of trailing candidate Abdullah Abdullah protested, the Obama administration threatened to pull out all of its financial and security support for Afghanistan should leaders not reach a peaceful resolution.
“I think the fact is that if they’re not abiding by their constitution, it makes it difficult for us to continue to provide the kind of support that we have been and we would like to,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters Tuesday.
Campbell, who would be returning to Afghanistan for his third tour since 2003, had high praise for the Afghan security forces that the US has cultivated, citing “great progress” by the Afghan soldiers and police and predicting they will “hold firm” during the tenuous presidential transition.
Campbell’s assessment came the day after a United Nations report found that ground battles between Afghan forces and the Taliban insurgents had overtaken insurgent bombs as a leading cause of civilian deaths and injuries. Civilian casualties grew by a quarter over the past year, the UN reported.
Questioning from incredulous senators prompted Campbell to walk back his comments significantly. Despite the Afghan forces “holding strong”, Campbell said that an illegitimate election would likely prompt them to “revert to what they’ve done for years and years and go back to a tribal affiliation”.
At one point, Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican on the panel who recently returned from visiting US forces in Afghanistan, corrected Campbell on the composition of that Afghan military, gently telling the general that ethnic Tajiks, a minority in Afghanistan, are overrepresented in the officer corps.
Senators on the panel for the morning hearing sounded alarmed about the Obama administration’s plans to end the war in 2017, leaving a rump US troop presence of about 1,000 based at the Kabul embassy. In light of the deterioration of Iraq in the past weeks, they extracted promises from Campbell to review the pace and scale of the administration’s drawdown – a sign that Campbell’s nomination is not in jeopardy – even as Campbell dismissed concerns that the Afghan military would prove as fragile in post-US Afghanistan as Iraq’s did.
The panel also got a rare public appearance from the leader of the Joint Special Operations Command, army Lieutenant General Joseph Votel, nominated for elevation to run the overarching US Special Operations Command. Votel revealed that after 2014, the US will maintain 2,000 elite forces in Afghanistan, with 980 of them tasked for the residual counterterrorism mission President Obama outlined in May, a figure Votel testified was adequate.
Source: The Guardian