Retired general: Keeping troops in Afghanistan 'smart thing to do'
Posted October 15, 2015
Fort Bragg, N.C. — President Barack Obama's decision to keep U.S. troops in Afghanistan beyond 2016 likely means more deployments from Fort Bragg, but a retired Army general said Thursday that the move is necessary.
"This is a decision that will be welcome by a significant number of people as a smart thing to do right now," said Gen. Dan McNeill, who served as the commander of coalition forces in Afghanistan in 2002 and 2003 and later headed the International Security Assistance Force there.
Obama had promised to get almost all troops out of Afghanistan before he leaves office in January 2017, leaving a force of about 1,000 behind at the U.S. embassy in Kabul. He now says, however, that more troops are needed to continue training Afghan forces and to carry out counter-terrorism efforts.
About 9,800 U.S. troops are in Afghanistan now, and under the revised reduction, about 5,500 would remain after next year.
While some Fort Bragg soldiers said the decision comes as no surprise, McNeill said "there was no indication" that Obama would change course on withdrawing from Afghanistan. Still, he said commanders recommended the move, and presidential pledges need to be grounded in battlefield reality.
"I don't believe that I would couch it in terms of the insurgents as much as I would that the Afghan national army needs a little more time and a little more support of the coalition to get some of their processes for prosecuting military operations in good order," he said.
The Taliban has been making gains in the country recently. The insurgents captured Kunduz, a strategic city in northern Afghanistan, last month, but has since withdrawn.
Fort Bragg officials declined to comment on Obama's announcement. A spokesman said only that it's too early to know what the post's involvement in Afghanistan would be after next year.
Deployments to Afghanistan have been a fact of life at Fort Bragg for 14 years, with some soldiers going there as many as eight times. About 100 soldiers returned this week after a nine-month deployment.
"They're weary of the separation," McNeill said. "I think they're well aware of what their ... spouses are committed to doing in life."
Fort Bragg has played an integral role in Afghanistan so far, he said, and that will likely continue into the next presidency.