Washington: Military commanders did not recommend that the White House announce the complete withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan in 2017 as the president ordered, the top US commander there told senators today.
Marine Gen Joseph Dunford said US and Afghan military leaders would have preferred to see American officials be "a bit more ambiguous" about the troop numbers for 2017, and not telegraph to the enemy that international forces would leave.
Speaking before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Dunford laid out a sober assessment of the Afghan security forces, saying there will still be critical aviation and intelligence-gathering gaps in their ability to conduct counter terrorism operations in 2016.
He said the current plan requires US forces to shift to Kabul in 2016, significantly reducing US ability to assist in the counter terror fight.
He added that if the US decides more help is needed in 2016, officials will have to start discussing that a year from now in order to have American special operations forces available beyond Kabul to assist in that fight.
Dunford has been nominated to be the next commandant of the Marine Corps and was testifying at his nomination hearing. President Barack Obama ordered the US to withdraw all but nearly 10,000 troops by the end of 2014, cut that number in half by the end of 2015, and leave only about 1,000 in a security office after the end of 2016.
Dunford told the panel that he agrees with the pace of the US withdrawal this year and next year. But, under questioning from Sen John McCain, a Republican, he said he and other military leaders did not recommend "a hard date" for the full withdrawal at the end of 2016.
He said military leaders prefer to routinely re-evaluate troop decisions based on conditions on the ground, including the capability of the Afghans, the state of the threat from militants and the progress of the Afghan government.
Dunford also offered a strong endorsement for continuing to provide Russian MI-17 helicopters to the Afghan forces, saying that prohibiting their sales would be "catastrophic."
US lawmakers have urged stronger penalties against Moscow due to the incursion into Ukraine`s Crimean Peninsula, and they have called for the termination of the remainder of a 1 billion USD contract to buy the Russian helicopters.