By David VergunMarch 14, 2016
WASHINGTON (Army News Service, March 14, 2016) -- Congress and the U.S. president listened and acted on advice from the commander of U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan over the last 18 months, said Gen. John F. Campbell.
Campbell, who was that commander, spoke mostly about Afghanistan during a media farewell event at the Pentagon, March 11. He will retire May 1.
President Barack Obama's decision to keep 9,800 American forces in Afghanistan into 2016 has resonated through the region, said Campbell, the former commander of NATO's Resolute Support Mission. His replacement as commander of U.S. Forces-Afghanistan is Gen. John W. Nicholson Jr., who assumed the duties, March 2.
Near the end of 2014, the U.S. was headed toward 1,000 troops remaining in Afghanistan by the end of 2016. That meant closing all U.S. bases in Afghanistan except in Kabul, Campbell said.
In October 2015, Obama announced that the United States would maintain 9,800 troops in Afghanistan through 2016. That's an example of the president heeding his own counsel, he said. Congress, similarly, has been receptive, during testimonies there, he added, the most notable taking place in closed-door hearings.
Campbell said he'd be remise if he didn't mention the great support he got as well from the commander of U.S. Central Command, Gen. Lloyd Austin; the commander of U.S. European Command, Gen. Philip Breedlove; and, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford. All had direct or tangential roles in shaping activities in Afghanistan.
Now, bases will remain in Kabul, Jalalabad and Kandahar, Campbell said, noting that's still a lot less presence than during the surge when he was there.
Currently, the main role of the U.S., he said, is to train, advise and assist the Afghan forces.
Campbell said he sees Afghan President Ashraf Ghani as a willing partner who wants to continue to build Afghan capabilities. Things could have gone south in that respect should the rapid drawdown have proceeded.
The Obama's decision was a warning to the Taliban that the U.S. was committed to Afghanistan's future, and that the group could not simply wait out the Americans, he said.
For Pakistan, the decision informed them that the United States and NATO are in the fight for the long term, he said, mentioning that he met regularly with Pakistan's Gen. Raheel Sharif and the two had good relations.
There are still problems, the general said, but the Afghan government is willing to confront them, learn and move on. He cited the Taliban attack on Kunduz as an example. The temporary Taliban takeover of the provincial capital was an intelligence failure and an information operation win for the enemy and a wake-up call for the Afghan government, he noted.
Afghan officials understand they have to develop good governance at the lowest levels of the districts to stop similar attacks from occurring, he added.
Afghan security forces are getting better and better every day, he said. They're still a relatively young army, with just eight or nine years since forming, so they shouldn't be compared to the U.S. Army.
Areas where there's still room for improvement are logistics, leadership and intelligence, he added.
The Taliban remain the biggest security threat, Campbell said. There used to be a fighting season, which was when the weather got warmer, but now, there's fighting year-round in what's called the winter campaign and the summer campaign. They know that they can wait around until the U.S. leaves so giving them a withdrawal timetable would be a bad idea.
Besides the Taliban, there's an Islamic State offshoot group operating out of Nangahar province's Achin and Deh Bala districts, he said. They'd very much like to attack Europe and the U.S., he added, but the capability isn't yet there so they bear watching.
Other terrorists groups exist as well, often operating on both sides of the border with Pakistan, he noted. The Haqqani Network is a prime example and they're notable for their vehicle-borne IED attacks. Pakistan can put some pressure on them but they think that if they put too much, they'll turn around and attack Pakistan.
Some of these terrorist groups fight each other, "red-on-red," Campbell said. When they do that, the U.S. doesn't usually intervene. Iran is providing some aid to terrorist groups fighting the Islamic State, a group it feels threatened by. That's not really helpful to overall security.
After "36 years, 10 months and 25 days as of May 1," Campbell said it's time to retire and not look back and regret the decision. "I'm at peace with it."
Campbell's wife Ann has accompanied him around the globe or waited at home while he was deployed, often caring for Soldiers and their families, especially those who were wounded. Campbell said he wants to focus on her now.
Their plan, he said, is to stay in the greater Washington, D.C. area for about a year and then hunt for a place to live and work. That will give him more time to focus on retirement since he said he's been too focused thinking about other things in Afghanistan.
As for future work, Campbell said serving others would be a factor in the decision.
Campbell added that he was honored to have been offered the command of U.S. Africa Command by the secretary of Defense, but turned it down to retire.
Still serving, however, will be Campbell's son, who is with a Stryker brigade out of Fort Hood, Texas.
Campbell concluded that the thing he regrets most about retiring is no longer having an impact on the younger Soldiers, as mentors have had on him.
He added: "I left Afghanistan, but Afghanistan will always be in my heart. I'm leaving the Army now, but the Army will always be in my heart."
(Editor's note: Jim Garamone, DoD News, Defense Media Activity, contributed to this article.)