U.S. Army Gen. John Nicholson, pictured during a change of command ceremony in Afghanistan on March 2, 2016, told the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee he needs thousands more troops in order to properly train and support Afghan forces as they continue working to clear the Taliban and other militants from towns and villages throughout the country. Photo by Rahmat Gul/EPA
Feb. 9 (UPI) -- Although the North Atlantic Treaty Organization has enough special operations to conduct missions, the U.S. and NATO commander said Thursday it needs more troops in Afghanistan to help with training and advising the Afghan army.
U.S. Army Gen. John Nicholson told the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee that thousands more troops are needed to help the Afghan army, which will help break a years-long stalemate in the country as it works to clear the Taliban and other fighters.
Nicholson also said other countries are interfering with U.S. and NATO efforts in Afghanistan, specifically Russia and Iran, who "legitimize and support the Taliban." Though they claim this support will help combat the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, ISIL, and Daesh, it has actually acted to undermine efforts at enhancing peace since U.S. troops officially ended combat operations there in 2014.
"It is very difficult to succeed on the battlefield when your enemy enjoys external support and safe haven," Nichols told the senators, stressing that support for the Taliban while NATO and U.S. troops work to root out its members is not helping the situation there.
While Nicholson said Russia is working in Afghanistan explicitly to undermine the U.S., he also said the number of Islamic State militants in the country and the areas they operate there have both decreased significantly.
Nicholson said it does not matter if the few thousand additional troops come from the U.S. or other members of NATO -- though most NATO members may not be interested in sending more troops to the country -- but more advisers are needed to work with the Afghans on the battlefield as they clear Taliban and other destructive militants from villages and towns.
Arizona Sen. John McCain, chair of the Senate Armed Forces committee, blamed what Nicholson calls a stalemate in Afghanistan on former President Barack Obama's handling of Afghanistan, which included a steady withdrawal of U.S. troops in the last few years.
With Nicholson urging Congress to increase U.S. deployment to Afghanistan, where there are currently 8,400 U.S. service members, McCain did not indicate a willingness to do so but said the stagnant situation there "was predicted -- predicted -- by those of us who know something about warfare."