WASHINGTON — The top general in Afghanistan on Friday denied reports of internal disagreement within the military about President Trump’s plan to withdraw forces within 16 months.
Army Gen. Scott Miller, who took command of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan three weeks ago, told the Associated Press that he did not speak with Defense Secretary Jim Mattis or Gen. Joseph Votel, the commander of Central Command, about a different plan the White House had circulated to speed up the withdrawal of American and coalition troops.
On Thursday, the Daily Beast reported that the administration was considering setting a withdrawal deadline for next summer, instead of next fall. The Trump administration has already ruled out any troop commitment through 2024.
“I was asked to look at the situation of Afghanistan, by somebody in government,” Miller said. “And the first thing I did was go to Central Command to see if that was true, to see if they agreed with it, and to see if he or she was even qualified to give me that kind of information, or the value of it. And all of my advice to the president was that this is a military issue. It has no factual basis, nor is it what the president intends. And I offered to correct that misinformation as quickly as I could, but it has no factual basis. I consulted the secretary and the general at Central Command. I spoke to the secretary, and he’s very supportive of the strategy, as am I.”
The comment came a day after Mattis, in a Capitol Hill hearing, said a troop withdrawal by next summer was “highly unlikely” and that the objective was to create a “stable and secure” Afghanistan.
On Thursday, Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, who had been asking about the strategy, called the withdrawal timeline “anemic” and said that over a year ago, Mattis told Congress, “I don’t think you can exit in 17 months.”
Durbin and lawmakers of both parties have criticized Trump’s proposed strategy for failure to “finish the job.” Trump in Afghanistan, where he met with Miller and the heads of the rest of the coalition, has accused the Obama administration of creating a “mess” in Afghanistan.
He told the leaders of the Afghan National Army, police and tribal militia that he wanted the Pentagon to come up with a proposal to create a force to handle the insurgency, something the U.S. currently lacks.