ASIA Afghan se­cu­rity losses a worry for US

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WASH­ING­TON — The death toll among Afghanistan’s se­cu­rity forces will no longer be sus­tain­able un­less ur­gent mea­sures are taken to ad­dress re­cruit­ing and train­ing is­sues, a top US gen­eral said on Tues­day.

Since the start of 2015, when Afghan po­lice and army units suc­ceeded NATO as bear­ing re­spon­si­bil­ity for Afghanistan’s se­cu­rity, tens of thou­sands of lo­cal forces have been killed, mainly in Tal­iban at­tacks.

Lieu­tenant Gen­eral Ken­neth McKen­zie, who has been nom­i­nated to lead the US mil­i­tary’s Cen­tral Com­mand that over­sees wars in the Mid­dle East and Afghanistan, said the death rate may not be sus­tain­able.

McKen­zie said he would work ur­gently with Gen­eral Austin Miller, the head of the NATO mis- sion and US Forces Afghanistan, to tackle prob­lems of re­cruit­ment, train­ing and how the Afghans “present forces for ac­tual ex­e­cu­tion” of mis­sions.

“They are fight­ing hard, but their losses are not go­ing to be sus­tain­able un­less we cor­rect this prob­lem,” McKen­zie told the Se­nate Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee at his nom­i­na­tion hear­ing.

“It has Gen­eral Miller’s di­rect at­ten­tion and, if con­firmed, it would be some­thing that I would like to work with him on as a mat­ter of great im­por­tance.”

Afghan Pres­i­dent Ashraf Ghani last month said 28,529 Afghan se­cu­rity forces had been killed since the start of 2015, a fig­ure far higher than any­thing pre­vi­ously ac­knowl­edged.

McKen­zie added that Afghan forces are still un­able to ef­fec- tively with­stand the Tal­iban, who have made steady gains in re­cent years and who now num­ber about 60,000 in Afghanistan.

The Afghan forces are “not there yet, and if we left pre­cip­i­tously right now I do not be­lieve they would be able to suc­cess­fully de­fend their coun­try,” McKen­zie said.

The gen­eral would take the helm of Cent­com at a dif­fi­cult time in Afghanistan, where 17 years since the US- led in­va­sion vi­o­lence is show­ing no signs of abat­ing.

US law­mak­ers and Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump are grow­ing in­creas­ingly frustrated with a suc­ces­sion of gen­er­als promis­ing things may soon turn a corner and an­gered over the US$ 45 bil­lion or so Amer­ica still pays an­nu­ally for its in­volve­ment in Afghanistan.

McKen­zie couldn’t say how much longer the US will be in Afghanistan.

“I do know that to­day it would be very dif­fi­cult for (the Afghan se­cu­rity forces) to sur­vive with­out our and our coali­tion part­ners’ as­sis­tance.”

Echo­ing com­ments made last month by Gen­eral Joe Dun­ford, chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, McKen­zie said he be­lieved the sit­u­a­tion in Afghanistan re­mains a stale­mate.

“The op­er­a­tional mil­i­tary sit­u­a­tion is largely stale­mated,” he said, not­ing how­ever that he holds out hopes for po­lit­i­cal ef­forts for a set­tle­ment.

If con­firmed, McKen­zie would gain a fourth star and re­place Gen­eral Joseph Vo­tel, who is re­tir­ing. — AFP

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