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World

General Requests Thousands More Troops To Break Afghanistan 'Stalemate'

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

The top American commander in Afghanistan says the U.S. is now in a stalemate against the Taliban after 15 years of fighting and thousands of Americans dead and wounded. General John Nicholson spoke to the Senate Armed Services Committee today. He also said that more NATO trainers are needed to help Afghan security forces. NPR's Tom Bowman has more.

TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: The discussion about Afghanistan on Capitol Hill started with this simple question to General Nicholson. Here's Senator John McCain of Arizona.

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JOHN MCCAIN: In your overall commander's assessment, are we winning or losing?

In your overall commander's assessment, are we winning or losing?

GENERAL JOHN NICHOLSON: Mr. Chairman, I believe we're in a stalemate.

BOWMAN: A stalemate - Nicholson acknowledged the Taliban grabbed 15 percent more territory over the past year. Afghan forces suffered heavy casualties, and the Taliban continue to find refuge just across the border in Pakistan.

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NICHOLSON: It's very difficult to succeed on the battlefield when your enemy enjoys external support and safe haven.

BOWMAN: Still, Nicholson said there's little public support in Afghanistan for the Taliban, and he said the Afghan forces, especially the Afghan commandos, are fighting hard. And to help those forces, the general said, more trainers are needed.

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NICHOLSON: We have a shortfall of a few thousand. And this is in the NATO train, advise, assist mission. So this can come from the U.S. and its allies.

BOWMAN: Germany already has sent more trainers, and Italy is considering that too, Nicholson said. The U.S. now has some 8,400 troops in Afghanistan. Most of them are involved in that training mission with a smaller number of special operators working with Afghan troops on a counter-terror mission going after al-Qaida and ISIS. But that narrative is being undermined, Nicholson said, by Russia.

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NICHOLSON: The Russian involvement this year has become more difficult. They have begun to publicly legitimize the Taliban.

BOWMAN: Russia, the general said, is saying that the Taliban are the ones taking on ISIS. Nicholson said that's just not true.

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NICHOLSON: The Afghan government along with U.S. counterterrorism forces are successfully fighting against Islamic State in Afghanistan. In this year alone, we have reduced their fighters by half, their territory by two thirds. We've killed their leader - in fact their top 12 leaders - and continue to disrupt their operations.

BOWMAN: Whether the U.S. sends more troops to Afghanistan this year is uncertain. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has only said the Taliban has, quote, "eroded some of our successes." The ultimate decision about sending troops rests with President Donald Trump. A new fighting season will start in two months. Tom Bowman, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.