The top U.S. general overseeing coalition military operations in Afghanistan said Thursday he has a “shortfall of a few thousand” coalition troops, opening the door to more U.S. military advisers deploying in an effort to bolster the effort to train and advise Afghan security forces.
Army Gen. John W. Nicholson Jr. told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the additional advisers would be part of Operation Resolute Support, the coalition’s advising mission. Nicholson already has enough troops to run a separate counterterrorism operation in Afghanistan, he said, but more military advisers would bolster efforts to improve the country’s ministries and allow the coalition to train more troops below the “corps level,” which includes generals and other senior levels of the military.
“These contributions could come from our allies, as well as the United States,” Nicholson said. “We have identified the requirement, and the desire to advise below the corps levels. So, these additional forces would enable us to thicken our advisory effort across the Afghan ministries and do more advising below the corps level.”
Currently, there are about 8,400 U.S. service members deployed in Afghanistan, with about 6,800 assigned to Resolute Support and a few thousand carrying out counterterrorism operations. The total number of coalition troops deployed there is about 13,300.
Nicholson, appearing before Congress for the first time since the Trump administration took over, said he believes the new president may be open to a more robust military effort that is “objectives-based.” Questioned by Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R.-S.C.), the general said he can definitely carry out his mission with less than 50,000 coalition troops, but hesitated a bit when asked if he could do so with less than 30,000.
“Sir, that’s a conversation I need to have with my chain of command — but yes,” Nicholson said.
White House press secretary Sean Spicer, asked about Nicholson’s comments, said that the matter is currently a Defense Department issue. But he predicted Trump will “heed the advice” of U.S. generals and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.
Nicholson also said that Russia is increasingly working with the Taliban in an effort to undermine the United States and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization militant alliance in Afghanistan despite the effect that narcotics peddled by the Taliban have on Russian society. The Russian narrative, Nicholson said: The Taliban is fighting the Islamic State, and without the Taliban the Islamic State could spill over more into Afghanistan.
“This is a false narrative,” he said.
Nicholson said he is in discussions with other senior members of the U.S. military, including Mattis and Marine Gen. Joseph F. Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, about what is needed in Afghanistan. Mattis is expected to travel to Europe next week and consult with allies.