U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC), questioned Lieutenant General Austin S. Miller, nominee to be General and Commander of the Resolute Support Mission of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and Commander of the United States Forces-Afghanistan at a SASC hearing this morning.
Inhofe: Two core military missions in Afghanistan are counter-terrorism and to train, advise, and assist the Afghan security forces. Late August, the Trump administration released the South Asia Strategy reemphasizing America's commitment to Afghanistan and bolstering American security. The strategy is conditions-based in reverse to the previous administration's policy of artificial timelines for withdrawal and made changes to the rules of engagement including those of use of air power to strike enemy targets throughout the country. This new rules of engagement has allowed for targeting of illicit narcotics and severely hampered the flow of funding and is impacting the Taliban. Currently, there are approximately 16,000 U.S. personnel serving in the country. Both General Nicholson and Ambassador Bass, who recently appeared before this committee, have said that the new strategy is impacting the Taliban on multiple fronts. In the past, the Taliban simply had to sit back and wait us out.
With this new strategy, I'd like to have in your view, has that changed the thinking of the Taliban, and if so, how?
Miller: Senator, I go back to, as you mentioned, the vital national interest. It is the counter-terrorism piece, certainly the Taliban create the conditions for the ungoverned spaces. As far as the changing of the thinking of the Taliban, I'm following the progress from a distance, if confirmed that would be something I would go over and make an assessment. I do note, as highlighted earlier, the recent cease-fire over Eid. One by the government and one by the Taliban. So, if nothing else, we have seen some change from that regard. Clearly, from the conditions-based strategy is taken time off the table, at the present.
Inhofe: What about resources? You've had a chance to look and see what the resources are available to carry out your mission, what is your response? Are they adequate? As far as you see right now.
Miller: Senator, where I sit today, in Joint Special Operations Command, gives me a unique look at certainly the resources that are applied against the counter-terrorist fight so I do see those. As for other resources, my instincts say they're about right, but at the same time I would, if confirmed, like to go over and just look at that and come back to you with a better assessment of that.
Inhofe: Take some time to get use to where we are. Just for a minute, let's talk about the SFAB activities that are going on. We have some six, I guess one of those is to the reserves, so we're looking at five SFABs which concentrate on the NCOs and the officers and that’s going to be predicated on the assumption that they, the Afghans, have adequate resources to carry out missions as instructed and participate in by these officers and NCOs.
How do you think that's going to work? Do you see the cooperation of the Afghans at this time to be adequate to carry out those missions?
Miller: Senator, I have seen the SFABs only from a distance. I had an opportunity to meet with their commander. I do know that they are very high quality soldiers, officers and non-commission officers as part of the SFAB. What I'd go back to is my personal experience with advising and assisting, which as you mentioned, is a critical component of our train, advise, and assist. I've seen it work. I've seen it work with the Afghan Special Security Forces, primarily with the commandos, but also with the police. That combination is a powerful combination and it has a chance to increase their capabilities, to increase the Afghans reach in intelligence and operations so I'm confident that this is going in the right direction.
Inhofe: Well that's good and I'm confident that you're going to be confirmed too, so I'd just like to have you, once you're on the job, looking to see how this works. It is a concept. Its good, I think, but it hasn't had time to be proven to the extent in the environment that you’re going to be working in so we're going to need to have reports back on that.
Miller: Yes, Senator.
Inhofe: Thank you so much.