US military favors keeping troops in Afghanistan past 2016

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Military Favors Keeping Some Troops in Afghanistan Past 2016


WASHINGTON (AP) -- In a potential major shift in policy, U.S. military commanders want to keep at least a few thousand American troops in Afghanistan beyond 2016, citing a fragile security situation highlighted by the Taliban's capture of the northern city of Kunduz this week as well as recent militant inroads in the south.

Keeping any substantial number of troops in Afghanistan beyond next year would mark a sharp departure from President Barack Obama's existing plan, which would leave only an embassy-based security cooperation presence of about 1,000 military personnel by the end of next year. Obama has made it a centerpiece of his second-term foreign policy message that he would end the U.S. war in Afghanistan and get American troops out by the time he left office in January 2017.

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The timing of a new decision on U.S. troop levels is unclear. Campbell is scheduled to testify to Congress next week on the security situation, including the effectiveness of Afghan security forces after a tough summer of fighting.

Meanwhile, the U.S. military said it conducted two more airstrikes overnight on Taliban positions around Kunduz. A U.S. Army spokesman, Col. Brian Tribus, said coalition advisers were at the scene Wednesday, "in the Kunduz area advising Afghan security forces."

The Taliban's takeover of Kunduz, a city of 300,000, marked the militants' first capture of a major city since the U.S. invasion ousted their government 14 years ago in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Republican critics of Obama's approach to transitioning from wartime occupation of Afghanistan to full Afghan security control called the fall of Kunduz a predictable consequence of Obama's calendar-based troop reductions.

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US military favors keeping troops in Afghanistan past 2016
TO GO WITH AFGHANISTAN-US-ARMY-CONFLICT-FOCUS BY GUILLAUME DECAMME In this photograph taken on August 13, 2015, US army soldiers walk as a NATO helicopter flies overhead at coalition force Forward Operating Base (FOB) Connelly in the Khogyani district in the eastern province of Nangarhar. From his watchtower in insurgency-wracked eastern Afghanistan, US army Specialist Josh Whitten doesn't have much to say about his Afghan colleagues. 'They don't come up here anymore, because they used to mess around with our stuff. 'Welcome to Forward Operating Base Connelly, where US troops are providing training and tactical advice to the 201st Afghan army corps as they take on the Taliban on the battlefield. AFP PHOTO / Wakil Kohsar (Photo credit should read WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP/Getty Images)
TO GO WITH AFGHANISTAN-US-ARMY-CONFLICT-FOCUS BY GUILLAUME DECAMME In this photograph taken on August 14, 2015, US army soldiers load ammunition into rifles during a military exercise inside coalition force Forward Operating Base (FOB) Connelly in the Khogyani district in the eastern province of Nangarhar. From his watchtower in insurgency-wracked eastern Afghanistan, US army Specialist Josh Whitten doesn't have much to say about his Afghan colleagues. 'They don't come up here anymore, because they used to mess around with our stuff. 'Welcome to Forward Operating Base Connelly, where US troops are providing training and tactical advice to the 201st Afghan army corps as they take on the Taliban on the battlefield. AFP PHOTO / Wakil Kohsar (Photo credit should read WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP/Getty Images)
US soldiers part of NATO patrol during the final day of a month long anti-Taliban operation by the Afghan National Army (ANA) in various parts of eastern Nangarhar province, at an Afghan National Army base in Khogyani district on August 30, 2015. Afghan security forces launched a joint anti-militant operation in three districts, killing over 150 armed insurgents and wounding 112 others with 13 security personnel killed and three others were wounded in the past 30 days, Afghan National Army Commander Zaman Waziri said. AFP PHOTO / Noorullah Shirzada (Photo credit should read Noorullah Shirzada/AFP/Getty Images)
TO GO WITH AFGHANISTAN-US-ARMY-CONFLICT-FOCUS BY GUILLAUME DECAMME In this photograph taken on August 14, 2015, Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers are served lunch at a kitchen inside a base in the Khogyani districtin the eastern province of Nangarhar. From his watchtower in insurgency-wracked eastern Afghanistan, US army Specialist Josh Whitten doesn't have much to say about his Afghan colleagues. 'They don't come up here anymore, because they used to mess around with our stuff. 'Welcome to Forward Operating Base Connelly, where US troops are providing training and tactical advice to the 201st Afghan army corps as they take on the Taliban on the battlefield. AFP PHOTO / Wakil Kohsar (Photo credit should read WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP/Getty Images)
TO GO WITH AFGHANISTAN-US-ARMY-CONFLICT-FOCUS BY GUILLAUME DECAMME In this photograph taken on August 14, 2015, US army soldiers fire during a military exercise inside coalition force Forward Operating Base (FOB) Connelly in the Khogyani district in the eastern province of Nangarhar. From his watchtower in insurgency-wracked eastern Afghanistan, US army Specialist Josh Whitten doesn't have much to say about his Afghan colleagues. 'They don't come up here anymore, because they used to mess around with our stuff. 'Welcome to Forward Operating Base Connelly, where US troops are providing training and tactical advice to the 201st Afghan army corps as they take on the Taliban on the battlefield. AFP PHOTO / Wakil Kohsar (Photo credit should read WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP/Getty Images)
TO GO WITH AFGHANISTAN-US-ARMY-CONFLICT-FOCUS BY GUILLAUME DECAMME In this photograph taken on August 12, 2015, a US army soldier stands guard at an Afghan National Army (ANA) base in the Khogyani district in the eastern province of Nangarhar. From his watchtower in insurgency-wracked eastern Afghanistan, US army Specialist Josh Whitten doesn't have much to say about his Afghan colleagues. 'They don't come up here anymore, because they used to mess around with our stuff. 'Welcome to Forward Operating Base Connelly, where US troops are providing training and tactical advice to the 201st Afghan army corps as they take on the Taliban on the battlefield. AFP PHOTO / Wakil Kohsar (Photo credit should read WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP/Getty Images)
TO GO WITH AFGHANISTAN-US-ARMY-CONFLICT-FOCUS BY GUILLAUME DECAMME In this photograph taken on August 12, 2015, US army personnel keep watch at coalition force Forward Operating Base (FOB) Connelly in the Khogyani district in the eastern province of Nangarhar. From his watchtower in insurgency-wracked eastern Afghanistan, US army Specialist Josh Whitten doesn't have much to say about his Afghan colleagues. 'They don't come up here anymore, because they used to mess around with our stuff. 'Welcome to Forward Operating Base Connelly, where US troops are providing training and tactical advice to the 201st Afghan army corps as they take on the Taliban on the battlefield. AFP PHOTO / Wakil Kohsar (Photo credit should read WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP/Getty Images)
TO GO WITH AFGHANISTAN-US-ARMY-CONFLICT-FOCUS BY GUILLAUME DECAMME In this photograph taken on August 12, 2015, US army soldiers play basketball at coalition force Forward Operating Base (FOB) Connelly in the Khogyani district in the eastern province of Nangarhar. From his watchtower in insurgency-wracked eastern Afghanistan, US army Specialist Josh Whitten doesn't have much to say about his Afghan colleagues. 'They don't come up here anymore, because they used to mess around with our stuff. 'Welcome to Forward Operating Base Connelly, where US troops are providing training and tactical advice to the 201st Afghan army corps as they take on the Taliban on the battlefield. AFP PHOTO / Wakil Kohsar (Photo credit should read WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP/Getty Images)
TO GO WITH AFGHANISTAN-US-ARMY-CONFLICT-FOCUS BY GUILLAUME DECAMME In this photograph taken on August 14, 2015, a US army soldier and military dog keep watch as Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers walk through coalition force Forward Operating Base (FOB) Connelly in the Khogyani district in the eastern province of Nangarhar. From his watchtower in insurgency-wracked eastern Afghanistan, US army Specialist Josh Whitten doesn't have much to say about his Afghan colleagues. 'They don't come up here anymore, because they used to mess around with our stuff. 'Welcome to Forward Operating Base Connelly, where US troops are providing training and tactical advice to the 201st Afghan army corps as they take on the Taliban on the battlefield. AFP PHOTO / Wakil Kohsar (Photo credit should read WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP/Getty Images)
TO GO WITH AFGHANISTAN-US-ARMY-CONFLICT-FOCUS BY GUILLAUME DECAMME In this photograph taken on August 12, 2015, a US army soldier takes aim during a military exercise at coalition force Forward Operating Base (FOB) Connelly in the Khogyani district in the eastern province of Nangarhar. From his watchtower in insurgency-wracked eastern Afghanistan, US army Specialist Josh Whitten doesn't have much to say about his Afghan colleagues. 'They don't come up here anymore, because they used to mess around with our stuff. 'Welcome to Forward Operating Base Connelly, where US troops are providing training and tactical advice to the 201st Afghan army corps as they take on the Taliban on the battlefield. AFP PHOTO / Wakil Kohsar (Photo credit should read WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP/Getty Images)
TO GO WITH AFGHANISTAN-US-ARMY-CONFLICT-FOCUS BY GUILLAUME DECAMME In this photograph taken on August 13, 2015, US army and Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers walk as a NATO helicopter flies overhead at coalition force Forward Operating Base (FOB) Connelly in the Khogyani district in the eastern province of Nangarhar. From his watchtower in insurgency-wracked eastern Afghanistan, US army Specialist Josh Whitten doesn't have much to say about his Afghan colleagues. 'They don't come up here anymore, because they used to mess around with our stuff. 'Welcome to Forward Operating Base Connelly, where US troops are providing training and tactical advice to the 201st Afghan army corps as they take on the Taliban on the battlefield. AFP PHOTO / Wakil Kohsar (Photo credit should read WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP/Getty Images)
TO GO WITH AFGHANISTAN-US-ARMY-CONFLICT-FOCUS BY GUILLAUME DECAMME In this photograph taken on August 13, 2015, US army soldiers play chess inside coalition force Forward Operating Base (FOB) Connelly in the Khogyani district in the eastern province of Nangarhar. From his watchtower in insurgency-wracked eastern Afghanistan, US army Specialist Josh Whitten doesn't have much to say about his Afghan colleagues. 'They don't come up here anymore, because they used to mess around with our stuff. 'Welcome to Forward Operating Base Connelly, where US troops are providing training and tactical advice to the 201st Afghan army corps as they take on the Taliban on the battlefield. AFP PHOTO / Wakil Kohsar (Photo credit should read WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP/Getty Images)
TO GO WITH AFGHANISTAN-US-ARMY-CONFLICT-FOCUS BY GUILLAUME DECAMME In this photograph taken on August 12, 2015, a US army soldier poses for a photograph at coalition force Forward Operating Base (FOB) Connelly in the Khogyani district in the eastern province of Nangarhar. From his watchtower in insurgency-wracked eastern Afghanistan, US army Specialist Josh Whitten doesn't have much to say about his Afghan colleagues. 'They don't come up here anymore, because they used to mess around with our stuff. 'Welcome to Forward Operating Base Connelly, where US troops are providing training and tactical advice to the 201st Afghan army corps as they take on the Taliban on the battlefield. AFP PHOTO / Wakil Kohsar (Photo credit should read WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP/Getty Images)
TO GO WITH AFGHANISTAN-US-ARMY-CONFLICT-FOCUS BY GUILLAUME DECAMME In this photograph taken on August 12, 2015, a US army soldier looks on with binoculars at Coalition forces Forward Operating Base (FOB) Connelly in Khogyani district in the eastern province of Nangarhar. From his watchtower in insurgency-wracked eastern Afghanistan, US army Specialist Josh Whitten doesn't have much to say about his Afghan colleagues. 'They don't come up here anymore, because they used to mess around with our stuff. 'Welcome to Forward Operating Base Connelly, where US troops are providing training and tactical advice to the 201st Afghan army corps as they take on the Taliban on the battlefield. AFP PHOTO / Wakil Kohsar (Photo credit should read WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP/Getty Images)
TO GO WITH AFGHANISTAN-US-ARMY-CONFLICT-FOCUS BY GUILLAUME DECAMME In this photograph taken on August 12, 2015, a US army soldier stands guard at an Afghan National Army (ANA) base in the Khogyani district in the eastern province of Nangarhar. From his watchtower in insurgency-wracked eastern Afghanistan, US army Specialist Josh Whitten doesn't have much to say about his Afghan colleagues. 'They don't come up here anymore, because they used to mess around with our stuff. 'Welcome to Forward Operating Base Connelly, where US troops are providing training and tactical advice to the 201st Afghan army corps as they take on the Taliban on the battlefield. AFP PHOTO / Wakil Kohsar (Photo credit should read WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP/Getty Images)
TO GO WITH AFGHANISTAN-US-ARMY-CONFLICT-FOCUS BY GUILLAUME DECAMME In this photograph taken on August 12, 2015, a US army soldier plays on a smartphone as he lies on a bed at coalition force Forward Operating Base (FOB) Connelly in the Khogyani district in the eastern province of Nangarhar. From his watchtower in insurgency-wracked eastern Afghanistan, US army Specialist Josh Whitten doesn't have much to say about his Afghan colleagues. 'They don't come up here anymore, because they used to mess around with our stuff. 'Welcome to Forward Operating Base Connelly, where US troops are providing training and tactical advice to the 201st Afghan army corps as they take on the Taliban on the battlefield. AFP PHOTO / Wakil Kohsar (Photo credit should read WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP/Getty Images)
TO GO WITH AFGHANISTAN-US-ARMY-CONFLICT-FOCUS BY GUILLAUME DECAMME In this photograph taken on August 12, 2015, US army soldiers walk past an Afghan National Army (ANA) base in the Khogyani district in the eastern province of Nangarhar. From his watchtower in insurgency-wracked eastern Afghanistan, US army Specialist Josh Whitten doesn't have much to say about his Afghan colleagues. 'They don't come up here anymore, because they used to mess around with our stuff. 'Welcome to Forward Operating Base Connelly, where US troops are providing training and tactical advice to the 201st Afghan army corps as they take on the Taliban on the battlefield. AFP PHOTO / Wakil Kohsar (Photo credit should read WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP/Getty Images)
A member of the U.S. Air Force stands guard, inside a C-130 Hercules aircraft, that belongs to the Afghan National Army, in Kandahar Air Field, Afghanistan, Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2015. Since the departure from Afghanistan last year of most international combat troops, Afghan security forces have been fighting the insurgency alone. Figures show that casualty rates are extremely high, reflecting an emboldened Taliban testing the commitment and strength of the Afghan military. (AP Photo/Massoud Hossaini)
U.S. military officers pay respect during a change of command ceremony in FOB Oqab, Kabul, Afghanistan, Monday, July 27, 2015. (AP Photo/Massoud Hossaini)
U.S. military vehicles stage at the site of a suicide attack that targeted a convoy of American troops in Jalalabad, east of Kabul, Aghanistan, Friday, April 10, 2015. An Afghan official says the bomb killed and wounded several civilians. The Taliban have claimed responsibility for the attack. (AP Photo)
U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel speaks to American troops during a visit in FOB Gamberi, Afghanistan, Sunday, Dec. 7, 2014. Hagel visited the Forward Operating Base to meet with Afghanistan military officials and visit with American troops stationed there. (AP Photo/Mark Wilson, Pool)
US military forces listen to U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel speaking at Tactical Base Gamberi in eastern Afghanistan, Sunday, Dec. 7, 2014. Hagel was winding up a two day visit, his last to Afghanistan as secretary of defense. (AP Photo/Mark Wilson, Pool)
FILE- In this file photo taken Sept. 23, 2009, a column of U.S. Army mine-resistant armored vehicles (MRAPs) and Afghan National Army vehicles pass through a village during a joint patrol in the Jalrez Valley in Afghanistan's Wardak Province. As the United States military packs up to leave Afghanistan, ending 13 years of war, it is looking to sell or dispose of billions of dollars in military hardware, including its sophisticated and highly specialized mine resistant vehicles, but finding a buyer is complicated in a region where relations between neighboring countries are mired in suspicion and outright hostility.(AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo, file)
US soldiers and service members with the NATO- led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) attend a religious ceremony on Christmas Eve at Bagram military base in Kabul, Afghanistan, Tuesday Dec. 24, 2013. The commander of NATO forces in eastern Afghanistan spent Christmas Eve visiting U.S. troops at bases across the mountainous region to bring them holiday greetings and gifts for a few lucky soldiers. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)
In this Monday, Dec. 9, 2013 photo provided by the U.S. Department of Defense, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, center, arrives at Kandahar Regional Medical Hospital to visit medical staff and patients in Kandahar province, Afghanistan. America's top military officer said Tuesday the U.S. does not intend to renegotiate a security deal with Afghanistan and that a full withdrawal of its forces from the country at the end of 2014 could reverse gains made by Afghan troops in their war against the Taliban. (AP Photo/D. Myles Cullen, DOD)
In this March 22, 2013, photo, U.S. Marine Major Christopher Bourbeau, deputy commander at the 1st Brigade, 215th Corps Afghanistan National Army Advisor Team, at Camp Garmser, Helmand province, in southern Afghanistan, staging a pop quiz on how to tie tourniquets for the Afghan army troops he advises. The Afghan soldier tied the tourniquet in just over 30 seconds. U.S. commanders trying to hand off war-fighting responsibility by the end of 2014 are encouraged by the uneven yet steady progress of fledgling Afghan security forces. (AP Photo/Kim Dozier)
A Chinock window gunner guards, near U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, on a helicopter over Kabul, Afghanistan, Sunday, Dec. 8, 2013. Hagel spoke with troops and thanked them for being deployed for the holidays. (AP Photo/Mark Wilson, Pool)
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The loss of Kunduz may prove temporary, but it has underscored the fragility of Afghan security and hardened the view of those who favor keeping U.S. troops there beyond 2016.

According to U.S. officials, Campbell's options would postpone any major cuts in troop levels this year and give him more leeway on the pace of any reductions next year. The options, officials said, include keeping as many as 8,000 troops there well into next year and maintaining several thousand troops as a counterterrorism force into 2017. The options would allow for a gradual decline in troop numbers over the coming year, depending on the security conditions in Afghanistan and the capabilities of the Afghan forces, who sustained heavy combat losses this year and last.

As far back as March, during top-level meetings at the Camp David presidential retreat, senior administration officials were leaving the door open to a small counterterrorism force in Afghanistan in 2017. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and the Republican-controlled Congress favor extending the U.S. military presence. Ghani has expressed worry about militants affiliated with the Islamic State group trying to gain a wider foothold in his country.

Both Defense Secretary Ash Carter and Secretary of State John Kerry have suggested the importance of the U.S continuing its counterterrorism missions in Afghanistan, even into 2017. During the Camp David meetings, Kerry said the administration was concerned about reports that Islamic State militants are recruiting in Afghanistan and that some Taliban were rebranding themselves as Islamic State members. Since then, other U.S. officials have cited the Islamic State as a potentially growing threat, and the Taliban have made inroads in the southern province of Helmand.

"We see (Islamic State) capabilities increasing somewhat but not to the point where they can conduct operations that you're seeing in Iraq and Syria, although we do note the potential for them to evolve into something more serious, more dangerous," Brig. Gen. Wilson Shoffner told reporters at the Pentagon last month.

In August the Taliban seized the district of Musa Qala in Helmand and were only driven back by Afghan forces days later, after 24 U.S. airstrikes.

Pentagon officials on Tuesday had few details about how Kunduz fell. Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook called it a "setback" for Afghan forces, expressed confidence in their ability to eventually retake the city, and declined to say what the clash reveals about the capabilities of the Taliban.

Acting Afghan Defense Minister Masoom Stanekzai told a news conference in Kabul that the Taliban fighters had infiltrated the city during the recent Eid holiday, the biggest of the year, when millions of Afghans move around the country to spend time with family.

The Taliban fighters were reinforced by militants who came from neighboring Pakistan after being driven out by a military offensive, as well as from China and Central Asia, Stanekzai said. The fierce, multipronged assault caught the Afghan military and intelligence agencies off guard after what had appeared to be a stalemate throughout the summer between Taliban forces besieging the city and government troops defending it.

The U.S. officially ended its combat role at the end of 2014 but has kept troops there to train and advise Afghan forces and to hit extremist targets.

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