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World

Next Afghan War Commander To Re-Evaluate U.S. Response

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

The war in Afghanistan is entering its 15th year and will soon have its 17th commander. That man is Lieutenant General John Mick Nicholson. Nicholson's now with NATO in Turkey, but he's served several years in Afghanistan. NPR's Tom Bowman reports that with a resurgent Taliban, General Nicholson has his work cut out for him.

TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: Taliban fighters seized the northern city of Kunduz last fall. Right now, it's fighters are grabbing territory in Southwestern Helmand Province, an area that Marines won back in a bloody fight six years ago. American officials in Kabul try to paint a bright picture. Most of the country is secure, they say. The Afghan army is leading the fight for the first time, but at his confirmation hearing today before the Senate Armed Services Committee, General Nicholson agreed things are getting worse. Here's his exchange with Senator John McCain.

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JOHN MCCAIN: The security situation in Afghanistan has been deteriorating rather than improving. What is your assessment?

LIEUTENANT GENERAL JOHN MICK NICHOLSON: Sir, I agree with your assessment.

BOWMAN: So what's the plan for the next fighting season? Pentagon sources tell NPR the current commander in Afghanistan, General John Campbell, is asking for more American airstrikes to help Afghan forces. Nicholson hinted at Campbell's proposal.

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NICHOLSON: There is a conversation going on inside Department of Defense right now about some of his thoughts on this and other subjects in 2015, looking ahead to 2016.

BOWMAN: Other subjects - they include the possibility of having American special operators get closer to the fight with Afghan forces, helping prevent the loss of key terrain. But that could lead to more risk. One American Green Beret was killed in Helmand Province this month and two others wounded even though they were supposed to be limited to a train, advise and assist mission. President Obama hasn't decided whether Americans should get back to a larger fighting role in Afghanistan. Tom Bowman, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.