“The estimates I’ve heard, both from an Afghan perspective and probably from the intel community, is anywhere between 60 [percent] and 70 percent [who are] potentially reconcilable on the Taliban side,” Gen. John Campbell told the House Armed Services Committee.
He noted that the Haqqani network, which has been responsible for many attacks on U.S.-led coalition forces and suicide bombings, as well as remnants of the al-Qaida network in Afghanistan are not as open to peace.
And he warned about a rise of Islamic State militants in Afghanistan. He said some disgruntled Taliban not interested in rejoining the Afghan government and others upset about the Taliban’s new leader, Mullah Akhtar Mansoor, are switching their allegiance to the Islamic State.
“I think reconciliation talks will continue, but it’s going to take some time to bring the right people to the table, be that the Taliban currently are a little bit in disarray based on who’s in charge,” Campbell said.
“I think it’s going to take a good couple of months before we see them coming back to any kind of peace negotiation,” he said.
Campbell also made the case for more U.S. forces to stay in Afghanistan beyond 2016, when President Barack Obama wants to draw the force down to about 1,000 troops.
He said drawing the force down to 1,000 by the end of next year will limit coalition training and counterterrorism operations.
“If we came down to 1,000 — there is no counterterrorism structured force in those numbers,” Campbell said.
Campbell would not divulge his recommendations for how many U.S. troops should remain in Afghanistan. Campbell said 1,300 of the 9,800 American service men and women in Afghanistan are involved in everyday training, assisting and advising of Afghan national security forces, but only about 500 are operating outside Kabul.
Earlier this week, he told a Senate committee that he thought the number should be revised upward because much has changed since Obama decided in 2014 to draw down the force to 1,000 after 2016. He said the Afghan forces, while improving, still need help in many areas, including close air support, intelligence and maintenance.
“But there’s no doubt in my mind that they have the resilience, they have the will of character to continue to stand and fight to protect their homeland,” Campbell said of the Afghan forces.
NATO is leaving the door open for a larger security force in Afghanistan than initially planned after 2016, but officials say the alliance is waiting for the U.S. to announce its decision about future troop levels, which could come as soon as next week.
After the hearing, Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, the committee chairman, said NATO countries are going to follow the U.S.
“U.S. leadership is what matters. I don’t think NATO is going to be there if we’re not there. If we are there, then I do think these other countries will contribute,” Thornberry said.