Conditions to withdraw not yet met: NATO commanders
KABUL (Pajhwok): NATO top commander in Afghanistan US Army Gen. John W. Nicholson Jr met with military chiefs from NATO nations in Brussels on Wednesday and offered his assessment of the Afghan conflict in a closed-door meeting.
Nicholson presented his assessment behind closed doors to dozens of senior military officers, including Marine Gen. Joseph F. Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Army Gen. Curtis "Mike" Scaparrotti, the new supreme allied commander of NATO.
Nicholson did not appear at a news conference afterward, but Scaparrotti said that after hearing the war commander's plan, he was in favor of an approach that would remove additional forces only as conditions on the ground allowed it.
"It's a means to realize our objective of a stable and secure Afghanistan that is not a haven for terrorists any longer," Scaparrotti said. "I think that's what I take away from General Nicholson's report, and I think it's important that the [military chiefs] also heard it today."
Scaparrotti declined to characterize Nicholson's plan. But his comments, coupled with troubles by the Afghan government in quelling a bloody uprising, appear to signal support for leaving US troops in Afghanistan longer than planned.
President Obama has been grappling with whether to deviate from his plan to cut the number of American troops there again before he leaves office.
Obama announced last fall that he was keeping a force of about 9,800 troops deployed through most of 2016, with 5,500 into 2017.
But military officials and national security analysts believe that the president may be open to keeping more there longer in a limited role that continues to focus on the Afghan military weaknesses, including building the fledgling Afghan air force.
Gen. Petr Pavel, a Czech officer who serves as chairman of the NATO military committee, said Wednesday that there was general acknowledgment among most NATO allies involved in Afghanistan that it would be wise to leave the "same amount of participation" there now because they believed the conditions were not yet met to withdraw."
He called Afghan troops "essential to the stability of the Afghan state and a critical component in building the confidence of the Afghan people in their society."
The military chiefs were meeting ahead of a larger NATO summit in Warsaw in July. Many US officials believe the president could make a decision on troop numbers before then. Pavel said Wednesday that the military chiefs would focus heavily on preparing for the summit.
"Our discussions today provide an opportunity to establish a common understanding of recent developments in our constantly evolving security environment," the Czech general said.
"We will identify the most important advice for our ministers and heads of state and government as NATO prepares for the Warsaw Summit."
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