MAZAR-I-SHARIF, Afghanistan —
The clarity of the International Security Assistance Force campaign in Afghanistan is impressive, the top U.S. military leader said here today, and that is a tribute to leaders at all levels.
Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, met with U.S. and allied personnel at the German-led headquarters of Regional Command-North here today.
German army Maj. Gen. Jorg Vollmer escorted Dempsey and U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Mark Milley, commander of ISAF Joint Command, as they visited the base.
Following a lunch meeting with German and American troops, the chairman told them they are united in a common purpose and are on track to accomplish the mission. There are 2,000 U.S. troops and 8,000 service members from 17 NATO and partner nations in Regional Command-North.
Vollmer briefed Dempsey on the situation throughout the northern Afghan provinces of Badakhshan, Baghlan, Balkh, Faryab, Jowzjan, Kunduz, Samangan, Sar-e Pul and Takhar. “It’s a chance for me to learn what’s going well and what’s not,” the chairman said during his lunch with the troops. It was Dempsey’s first visit to the regional command since 2007, he said.
NATO and partner nations are heavily involved with training and advising Afghan National Army forces, Afghan uniformed police and Afghan local police. Dempsey, Milley and Vollmer discussed operations through the end of 2014, which is when the NATO mission in Afghanistan expires, and the retrograde movement out of the country.
Officials speaking on background said one theme of the meeting involved the Afghan elections and the retrograde movement of NATO and allied personnel and equipment from the country.
The U.S. will maintain more than 60,000 troops in Afghanistan through this year’s fighting season. That number will drop to 34,000 by February 2014, and will remain there through Afghanistan’s national elections, scheduled for April 5.
U.S. forces will make up a bit more than half of the NATO and partner forces in Afghanistan for the election. And NATO has agreed to keep the number of troops in Afghanistan at 60,000 for 90 days after the election.
If Afghan officials move the elections to later in the year, it would become difficult for the U.S., NATO and partner nations to meet the retrograde timeline, the official said. “There is physics involved with this,” the official added.
All NATO and partner nations are anticipating the U.S.-Afghanistan Bilateral Security Agreement, officials said. The agreement will provide the basis for the follow-on mission, which NATO has named Resolute Support. Once the United States and Afghan leaders ink a pact, which will include legal protections for American service members, NATO will follow suit.
This will mean the number of NATO personnel training and advising Afghan forces will be known and make the retrograde movement somewhat easier, officials said.
Following his meetings, Dempsey moved to gatherings with American, German and Swedish soldiers and airmen.
Mazar-i-Sharif now hosts U.S. Air Force personnel involved with flying and maintaining KC-135 Stratotanker refueling aircraft. They are part of a group based at the Transit Center at Manas, Kyrgyzstan.
“Since I’ve become chairman I’ve learned so much about what things make our military the most agile military in the world,” Dempsey told the airmen.
“Among those is our ability to establish air bridges for that global reach that literally no one else has.” The chairman thanked the airmen for their service, commitment and sacrifices, and asked that they pass his thanks on to their families as well.
Dempsey also met with American and Swedish medevac crews and toured a German HH-90 medevac helicopter. A planned aerial tour to other bases around the area had to be scrubbed because of dust and high winds.
Dempsey will continue his meetings in country tomorrow.