Trump's Afghanistan Push Requires Pakistan's Help, General Says

(Bloomberg) -- The biggest challenge to stabilizing Afghanistan remains the sanctuaries in Pakistan that shelter militants fighting the U.S.-led coalition, according to President Donald Trump’s nominee to lead allied forces in the 17-year-old war.

Ten months into the Trump-approved strategy that added as many as 4,000 American troops and approved more aggressive action against the Taliban, Pakistan’s actions remain “contradictory,” Army Lieutenant General Austin Miller told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday.

“We should have high expectations that they are part of the solution, not just diplomatically but from a security standpoint as well,” he said. In written answers, Miller said Pakistan has made “many sacrifices” and “its security forces have fought bravely,” but “we have not yet seen these counterterrorism efforts against anti-Pakistan militants translate into definitive actions against Afghan Taliban or Haqqani leaders residing in Pakistan.”

Trump has been equally vocal in the past about Pakistan, saying in August that “we can no longer be silent about Pakistan’s safe havens for terrorist organizations, the Taliban and other groups that pose a threat to the region.”

Bronze Star

Miller, 57, is a battle-hardened veteran who as a captain led a ground assault during the October 1993 “Black Hawk Down” fight in Mogadishu, Somalia, and was awarded the Bronze Star. He’s now head of the Joint Special Operations Command, the unit of elite U.S. commando forces conducting counterterror operations in Afghanistan.

Miller, who appears headed for quick approval by the Senate, will be executing the Trump-backed Pentagon strategy that abandons any public timeline for withdrawing about 14,000 U.S. troops and assigns them to work more closely to train and assist Afghan troops, down to combat-unit levels.

“The focus of military operations in 2018 is supporting secure and credible elections,” Miller said. “In 2019 and beyond, the improved leadership and increased offensive capability should result in improved battlefield performance to compel” the Taliban into political reconciliation, he said.

Miller said in his written answers that a cease-fire declared by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani -- and honored by the Taliban for three days before they returned to combat -- was “an unprecedented moment in this long war.”

‘Going in Circles’

Republicans and Democrats alike questioned Miller Tuesday on what conditions have changed in 17 years of combat.

“Obviously there is a expectation that you’ll bring something in that is going to offer something new,” Senator James Inhofe, an Oklahoma Republican, told Miller. “Because to continue to do the same thing that’s led us into 17 years is not going to be acceptable.”

Senator Elizabeth Warren, a Massachusetts Democrat, recounted several instances over the past several years when American commanders and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta touted great progress or “turning points.” The most recent claim was last year when the current commander, General John Nicholson, said “U.S. and Afghan forces have turned the corner.”

“General Miller, we’ve supposedly turned the corner so many times that it seems we’re going in circles,” Warren said.

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