U.S. Gen. John Campbell: We have to continue playing an “away game” in Afghanistan

“I am a glass half full kind of guy, and I believe that the Afghans will create an army and a police force that they can sustain down the road,” said General John F. Campbell at a Brookings event yesterday. Gen. Campbell, commander of Operation Resolute Support in Afghanistan, spoke at an event hosted by the Center on 21st Century Security and Intelligence at Brookings.

Gen. Campbell emphasized that “there are still people [in Afghanistan] who want to change our way of life.” To keep them from doing so, he said, “we have to continue … playing an ‘away game.’” The Operation Resolute Support commander described the increasing quality of Afghan security forces, observing that, on this his third tour of Afghanistan, “the Afghan security forces keep getting better and better … I’ve seen them progress and be very resilient.”

Gen. Campbell was joined on the panel by Matt Sherman, political advisor to the Resolute Support commander. Mr. Sherman described the strengths of the unity government, which features former rivals President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, by saying that “the more time that evolves with this national unity government in place, the stronger the bond is.” He added that “Afghanistan now has two leaders whose skills complement each other. When it comes to security they agree, when it come to a number of issues, they agree, and that is a significant achievement.”

The general observed that the success of Afghan security forces is perhaps not as obvious as it should be. The Taliban, he said,

will continue to try to overthrow the government … they’ll continue to try to come into Kabul and try to carry out HVAs—high value attacks—and create a large number of civilian casualties. But the number of times the Afghan forces have stopped attacks on my headquarters and other places is really quite remarkable, but you don’t hear about the attacks that don’t happen. What you hear about on the news are the successful suicide attacks.”

“For me,” said General Campbell, “it’s about solidifying the gains that the Afghans have made over the last 14 years and ensuring that we have a stable Afghanistan for Central Asia and the region going forward. That really cuts down on the opportunities for insurgents to have and plan opportunities to hit the homeland.”

Senior Fellow Michael O’Hanlon, co-director of the center and director of research for Foreign Policy, moderated the discussion. 

Watch full video of the event on C-SPAN.

Gail Chalef contributed to this post.