February 14th, 2013
06:34 PM ET

Fewer Afghan troops could yield more Taliban violence, Senate panel told

By Mike Mount

Reducing the number of Afghan security forces could lead to an increase in Taliban violence inside that country as U.S. forces prepare to leave by the end of 2014, Army Gen. Lloyd Austin said Thursday.

Austin was testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee during a hearing to confirm him as the next top U.S. commander to oversee military operations in the Middle East. Austin said keeping a larger Afghan force would allow the Afghan government to mature under a bigger security umbrella.

Currently, the U.S.-led NATO operation has plans to reduce the number of Afghan forces from about 352,000 to around 230,000 after U.S. troops leave in 2014.

Afghan security forces were beefed up to improve security in tandem with the surge of U.S. troops in 2009. The larger number of Afghan troops would be too expensive to maintain and would eventually have to be reduced as security improved around the country, according to the NATO plan.

"A larger Afghan force would help to hedge against any future Taliban mischief, and you could reasonably expect that an enemy that has been that determined, that agile, that very soon after we transition will begin to test the Afghan security forces," Austin told the Senate panel Thursday.

Austin, who did not participate in the Obama administration's recent decision to reduce the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan by 34,000 within the next year, refused to give his opinion on whether the plan was a good idea when lawmakers asked.

In what has become a typical show with recent Obama nominees vetted by the Senate Armed Services Committee, Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, offered some political theater as he asked Austin his opinion on the reduction of American troops in Afghanistan.

Austin was cut off mid-sentence by McCain when he said he would defer to the current commander's assessment. After sarcastically asking Austin the question again, McCain turned to Gen. David Rodriguez, who was also at the hearing as the nominee to be the next commander of U.S. military operations in Africa, what he thought of the Afghan plan because he used to be the commander in Afghanistan.

Rodriguez also refused to answer, saying he had left the command some 18 months ago and did not have a current assessment of the country.

Exasperated, McCain let out a giant sigh in what appeared to be disbelief that he could not get an answer.

As questions turned to the threats in Africa, Rodriguez was peppered from both sides of the aisle on his plans to ensure an improved military response to a crisis on the continent. The ranking member of the committee, Sen. James Inhofe, R-Oklahoma, asked Rodriguez how he planned to get U.S. forces on site in the event the military is needed.

Rodriquez said there would need to be good coordination between U.S. agencies, and they must understand security warnings in the region to best position troops to respond well.

"As you know, because of the time and distance and the basing challenges we have, that's going to continue to be a challenge," Rodriguez said of the distance between potential hot spots in Africa and the closest forces, which are in Europe or in Djibouti in eastern Africa. "The challenges across the depth and breadth of Africa with the resource constraints we are all living under, we are going to have to make great assessments of where we are going to have to accept risk and to make sure everybody knows and understands that."

One of the problems identified after the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, was the lack of U.S. military assets available to reach the region quickly. U.S. troops first arrived in Libya hours after the attack ended.

Rodriguez was asked to identify the threats facing his potential new command.

"A major challenge is effectively countering violent extremist organizations, especially the growth of Mali as an al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb safe haven, Boko Haram in Nigeria, and Al-Shabaab in Somalia," Rodriguez told the Committee. "Each present a threat to western interests in Africa," he said, and poses "the major threats to stability, militarily."

Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb is believed to be the extremist group responsible for recently attacking an oil installation in eastern Algeria and taking hostages, including Americans and other westerners.

Boko Haram is a growing Nigeria-based Islamist group that according to some counterterrorism officials has informal links with AQIM.

Al-Shabaab, which tightened its ties to the al Qaeda terror network, is a militant Islamist group that controls much of southern Somalia. It has waged an insurgency against a weak federal government there since 2007.

soundoff (14 Responses)
  1. brown

    The American people need to hold their Congress responsible for losing the Aghan War.

    Keep on re-electing these fools!

    February 17, 2013 at 5:33 pm | Reply
  2. xyzthegreat

    i think the only solution to the moslem problem of the world is to sterilize them so that no more moslems are born to trouble the world. i do not see any other solution. For rational thought and Islam doe not go together.

    February 17, 2013 at 4:05 pm | Reply
  3. Rob

    Virtually every single soldier of the 122,000 they're planning to lay off from the Afghan army will wind up working for the Taliban – that's how it works in Afghanistan when poor people need to eat and support their families, they will just find work on the other side. So, my conclusion is that it is STUPID AS HELL to lay off any soldiers – better to pay them all than to fight them on the other side.

    February 17, 2013 at 12:04 pm | Reply
    • Joseph McCarthy

      It's the other way around, Rob. What is stupid is to pay these clowns to defend the right of the West to exploit Afghanistan's natural resources. In fact, we should have let the Communists win out back in the 1970's before the Russians intervened and that way Afghanistan would become a modern progressive state. The best thing to do now is to let the Taliban win and take Afghanistan back!

      February 17, 2013 at 2:48 pm | Reply
  4. travel

    I had been exceptionally impressed through the depth of data you chose to share listed here.
    Thanks for getting enough time to put in writing these types of an insightful and informative piece

    February 16, 2013 at 11:29 am | Reply
  5. Sophie

    Let's be really frank here. The Afghan soldiers will step up to the plate, this is their country, and they need to get in the habit of fighting for their country. Keeping it free from those who harm it's government. This is new and a permanent thing. Regardless if the U.S. is there or not. This is the end of depending on others to do it for them. We are very clear on this.

    February 15, 2013 at 11:27 pm | Reply
    • StanCalif

      It simply does not work this way! Afganistan is ruled by a very corrupt goverment. Karsai only cares about his relatives' opium business! We have no business supporting opium trading! Democracy??? This is a big joke! People vote how they are told to vote. What do Afgans know about democracy and rule of law? Nothing!
      Afghanistan will continue to be the world's biggest source of opium, regardless of anything other countries try to do for them!

      February 16, 2013 at 10:09 am | Reply
    • George Patton-2

      Wise up, Sophie. The only Afghans who are fighting for their country these days are the Taliban and no one else! The so-called "Afghan" troops as you call them are just a bunch of well armed mercenaries who are fighting for the highest bidder(ie; the U.S. and it's NATO allies)!!!

      February 16, 2013 at 4:38 pm | Reply
  6. wjmccartan

    Either way, we're going to foot the bill for these "Afghan" troops. If the right-wing thugs in Washington get their way, Afghanistan will remain a U.S. satellite state with Western countries exploiting it's natural resources. This is totally wrong!

    February 15, 2013 at 10:35 am | Reply
    • Guest

      There are thugs on both sides. President Obama has expanded the drone program to levels Bush and Cheney could only have dreamed off. People in the Middle East live in fear of him every day, not the GOP.

      And China is the one getting rich off Afghanistan's resources, not us. But hey, good job not letting facts stand in the way of taking a shot at those you disagree with.

      February 16, 2013 at 7:44 am | Reply
  7. Gary Owen (El Snarkistani)

    With all due respect to General Austin, ISAF's own numbers show a distinct decrease in violence for the months from October to December of 2012. The last of the "surge" troops went home in September. Yes, those are the winter months, but the year-to-year decrease from 2011 was highlighted in the ISAF release.

    ISAF used the reduction in violence to indicate security gains on the part of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), but now Austin is saying we need more troops? Either we're ready for them to be in charge, or we're prepared to stay as long as we can. We can't have it both ways.

    February 15, 2013 at 1:36 am | Reply

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