Spe­cial Forces chief to lead new war era

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - BY CARLO MUÑOZ AND BEN WOLFGANG

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion is putting its own ag­gres­sive stamp on the Afghanistan War by tap­ping a career Spe­cial Forces op­er­a­tive to lead Amer­i­can troops there.

The White House pick of Army Lt. Gen. Austin “Scott” Miller, who ran the se­cre­tive Joint Spe­cial Op­er­a­tions Com­mand be­fore he was pegged for the top job in Afghanistan, sug­gests that Pen­tagon and ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials are gird­ing for a vi­o­lent and un­pre­dictable pe­riod in the 17-year-old war.

Gen. Miller’s ap­point­ment in some ways harks back to Pres­i­dent Obama’s 2009 in­stal­la­tion of Gen. Stan­ley A. McChrys­tal to over­see the con­flict, top an­a­lysts say.

Gen. McChrys­tal, who was re­lieved of his com­mand af­ter a pub­lic spat with Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials, also led the sto­ried Joint Spe­cial Op­er­a­tions Com­mand be­fore tak­ing the reins in Kabul.

Un­like Gen. McChrys­tal, how­ever, Gen. Miller will be op­er­at­ing with looser rules of en­gage­ment ap­proved by Pres­i­dent Trump that may make it eas­ier to at­tack in­sur­gent tar­gets.

Gen. Miller’s ex­ten­sive op­er­a­tional and com­mand ex­pe­ri­ence in Afghanistan, go­ing back to when the Army Spe­cial Forces of­fi­cer led the Obama-era Afghanistan-Pak­istan Co­or­di­na­tion Cell at the Pen­tagon in 2009, makes the spe­cial op­er­a­tions vet­eran a good fit to usher in the Trump era of the longest war in U.S. his­tory, some de­fense an­a­lysts say.

Dur­ing his years with the teams, Gen. Miller has “learned the best of the Spe­cial Forces lessons, which is not just the application of vi­o­lence” but the “in­tel­li­gent application of force” to lever­age the necessary po­lit­i­cal and diplo­matic so­lu­tions to end the war at the ne­go­ti­at­ing ta­ble, said David Sed­ney, for­mer deputy as­sis­tant sec­re­tary of de­fense for Afghanistan, Pak­istan and Cen­tral Asia from 2009 to 2013.

Fight­ing for peace

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has re­laxed rules of en­gage­ment in Afghanistan in re­sponse to grow­ing threats from the Tal­iban and other in­sur­gent groups and has cou­pled that with a surge of 3,000 more U.S. troops and ad­di­tional Amer­i­can fire­power into the coun­try — the linch­pin in the White House’s re­gional strat­egy an­nounced in Au­gust.

Gen. Miller’s ap­point­ment may fore­shadow a ma­jor in­crease in U.S. Spe­cial Forces raids, said Michael Pre­gent, a for­mer in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cer spe­cial­iz­ing in the Mid­dle East and North Africa.

“With Miller go­ing into this en­vi­ron­ment, he’s the right guy for it be­cause this is a ‘Kill bad guys’ time again in Afghanistan,” he said. “We’ve con­ducted more ag­gres­sive op­er­a­tions in Afghanistan, and we haven’t put a time­line on it. That’s important,” said Mr. Pre­gent, now a se­nior fel­low at the Wash­ing­ton-based Hud­son In­sti­tute.

But the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has not aban­doned the broader diplo­matic aim of try­ing to bring about real peace talks with Tal­iban lead­ers, said Javid Ah­mad, a fel­low at the At­lantic Coun­cil who stud­ies Afghanistan ex­ten­sively.

“The strat­egy would likely re­main in­tact, aimed at nudg­ing the Tal­iban to come to the ne­go­ti­at­ing ta­ble. Also a change in U.S. tac­tics … more tar­geted strikes, spe­cial oper­a­tion raids, etc., is likely to be driven by the con­di­tions on the ground,” he said.

Gen. John Ni­chol­son, the cur­rent com­man­der of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, said that se­cret ne­go­ti­a­tions have be­gun with at least some Tal­iban lead­ers on a pro­posed cease-fire, al­though whether the Tal­iban con­tacts speak for the en­tire in­sur­gent move­ment is an open question.

“A lot of the diplo­matic ac­tiv­ity and dia­logue is oc­cur­ring off the stage, and it’s oc­cur­ring at mul­ti­ple lev­els,” Gen. Ni­chol­son said in a tele­con­fer­ence with re­porters at the Pen­tagon.

“Vi­o­lence and progress can co­ex­ist, and that’s what we’re see­ing,” he said. “We’ve seen this in other con­flicts … where the two sides were talk­ing about peace at the same time that they were fight­ing each other on the bat­tle­field.”

Us­ing more ag­gres­sive U.S. mil­i­tary ac­tion as an im­pe­tus for real peace talks is a del­i­cate bal­anc­ing act that Gen. Miller has mas­tered in his years work­ing and fight­ing in Afghanistan, Mr. Sed­ney said.

“He is a very thought­ful guy [and] a very an­a­lyt­i­cal per­son,” Mr. Sed­ney said of Gen. Miller, with whom he worked closely dur­ing the two-star gen­eral’s stint as head of all U.S. spe­cial op­er­a­tions forces in Afghanistan in 2013.

“He un­der­stands things well beyond the car­i­ca­ture of the Spe­cial Forces’ gungho at­ti­tude,” Mr. Sed­ney said.

The nom­i­na­tion, which will el­e­vate Gen. Miller to a four-star gen­eral, has been made amid a bru­tal spate of Tal­iban ter­ror­ist at­tacks and high-pro­file U.S. mil­i­tary op­er­a­tions that have blood­ied both sides dur­ing this year’s fight­ing sea­son.

Rash of vi­o­lence

Gen. Ni­chol­son an­nounced last week that Amer­i­can forces had killed over 50 se­nior and mi­dlevel com­man­ders within the Tal­iban fac­tion in south­ern Afghanistan’s Hel­mand prov­ince.

Top lead­ers with the Hel­mand fac­tion were re­port­edly gath­ered in the prov­ince’s Musa Qala district on May 24 to dis­cuss their par­tic­i­pa­tion in the brief takeover of the cap­i­tal of western Afghanistan’s Farah prov­ince this month. U.S. and Afghan in­tel­li­gence tracked the group’s move­ments from the Farah cap­i­tal to the ren­dezvous point in Hel­mand when a bar­rage of U.S. rock­ets took out the group, Gen. Ni­chol­son told re­porters in the tele­con­fer­ence from Kabul.

Among the dead was Mul­lah Shah Wali, the Tal­iban shadow deputy gover­nor for Hel­mand and com­man­der the group’s spe­cial forces wing, said. Gen. Ni­chol­son. It was one of the largest coun­tert­er­ror­ism strikes by Amer­i­can troops since last year’s bomb­ing of an Is­lamic State com­pound in east­ern Nan­garhar prov­ince, where U.S. war­planes dropped the “Mother of All Bombs” on the Is­lamic State tun­nel com­plex.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.