Army official: Security in Afghanistan is worsening

Richard Lardner
Associated Press

Washington — President Barack Obama’s nominee to be the next American commander in Afghanistan said Thursday the security situation in Afghanistan is deteriorating and assured senators he will do a thorough review of the U.S. troop levels needed to stabilize the war-torn country.

Army Lt. Gen. John W. “Mick” Nicholson, Jr., told the Senate Armed Services Committee he will have a better sense of conditions in Afghanistan within a few months if he is confirmed by the Senate. Nicholson would succeed Gen. John F. Campbell, who is expected to retire.

There are about 9,800 U.S. troops in Afghanistan. At Campbell’s urging, Obama decided last October to abandon his plan to reduce troop levels to near zero by the end of 2016. Instead, he said they would shrink to 5,500 by the end of the year. The military could press Obama to maintain the current level of 9,800 troops until he leaves office in January 2017.

Nicholson said he supported the decision to retain the 9,800 U.S. troops and he agreed with Campbell’s approach. But Nicholson also said at numerous points during the hearing that he would conduct his own assessment, based on security conditions in the country, to ensure U.S. forces are “right-sized” to conduct counterterrorism missions and train and advise the Afghan security forces.

“This is Afghanistan,” Nicholson told the committee. “There will always be some level of violence in Afghanistan.”

The committee chairman, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., opened Nicholson’s confirmation hearing with a blistering assessment of Obama’s handling of the war in Afghanistan and the president’s adherence to a “calendar-based withdrawal.”

“By now, we should have learned from the precipitous withdrawal from Iraq and the disaster that ensued that wars do not end because politicians say so,” McCain said. “Nor will any politician be able to schedule an end to the threat of radical Islamist terrorism emanating from Afghanistan or the region more broadly.”

Nicholson, a 1982 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and a career infantry officer, is currently commander of NATO’s Allied Land Command, headquartered at Izmir, Turkey. Among numerous tours of duty in Afghanistan starting in 2006, he served as deputy chief of staff of operations for the international military command and for U.S. forces in 2010. Before that he spent 14 months as director of the Pentagon’s Afghanistan-Pakistan coordination cell.