I would like to thank General Campbell for appearing again. While recent reporting on Afghanistan has not all been positive, we must remember that our troops continue to serve in Afghanistan for important national security reasons and consider the significant progress that the Afghan people have made, with our assistance, over the last 14 years.
We are engaged in Afghanistan to further our interests. Al Qaeda used Afghanistan as a safe haven from which to strike our country, and our efforts in Afghanistan since have been centered on eliminating al Qaeda and fostering security and stability in Afghanistan in order to prevent violent extremism. While we have greatly reduced the number of Al Qaeda terrorists in Afghanistan, some remain, as do members of other dangerous international terrorist groups. The Islamic State in the Khorasan Province, which is affiliated with ISIL, is one example. We should, therefore, maintain our strong capability in Afghanistan to prosecute the fight against terrorism.
We must also continue to train, advise, and assist the Afghan National Defense Security Forces (ANDSF) in their ongoing counterinsurgency efforts. There is no question that the ANDSF have been embroiled in a tough campaign to protect Afghanistan from insurgent attack. 2015 was a difficult year. The ANDSF experienced setbacks, temporarily ceded ground, and took casualties. However, the ANDSF have responded to challenges and secured strategic areas, including the recapture of Kunduz. Although, there may be a long way to go, the ANDSF capabilities are improving.
So, what lessons have we learned from recent events? What gaps in the ANDSF have been identified and how will they be addressed in 2016? What does the ongoing fighting suggest about the ability of the ANDSF to eventually secure the entirety of Afghanistan and to reliably prevent extremists from using Afghanistan as a safe haven?
While the ANDSF have progressed, they still need help in building the indigenous ministerial institutions to lead the ANDSF and to keep them viable in the future. We also need to help the ANDSF establish and maintain a capable air force and develop other key enablers, including sound operational planning, logistics, and maintenance systems.
In short, the Afghans are not yet ready to secure their own country without our assistance and that of our coalition partners. Under the current plan, today’s level of approximately 9,800 U.S. troops deployed to Afghanistan would go down to about 5,500 U.S. troops by the end of the year. In the past, the President has shown flexibility in adapting to evolving conditions on the ground. We should continue to evaluate those conditions objectively, as we empower the ANDSF to sustainably secure their own country.