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Dunford to Emphasize Enduring Afghanistan Effort in NATO Meeting

By Lisa Ferdinando
DoD News, Defense Media Activity

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said today that he will tell his NATO counterparts there is opportunity in Afghanistan, but it will take time and continued focus.

Marine Corps Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr. is here to attend the NATO Military Committee/Chiefs of Staff meeting tomorrow.

"No. 1, I'm going to tell them that there's still work to be done and the Afghans need our support," Dunford said.

In an interview with reporters traveling with him, the chairman said discussions at the conference also will cover broader strategic issues associated with the alliance.

Those issues, he said, include Russia, NATO's southern flank, mass migration in Europe, and the fight against Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

Endurance, Continued Focus

The fighting season of 2015 in Afghanistan was difficult, but the Afghan forces persevered, Dunford said, despite having the support of far fewer international troops compared to previous years.

"What's important is that we take a look at the lessons that we learned from 2015 and we apply those in 2016," he said. International efforts need to enhance capability gaps of the Afghans forces, including in aviation, he added.

"My perspective is that we ought to view our efforts in Afghanistan as an enduring effort," said Dunford, who was the commander of the International Security Assistance Force and of U.S. forces in Afghanistan from February 2013 to August 2014.

Many things still can be done to enable the Afghans to be successful and help them develop the capabilities, the general said. "It's not only important for Afghanistan, but it's important for our broader counter-terrorism efforts in the region," he told reporters.

NATO's July summit in Poland will be very important, Dunford said, because funding the Afghan security forces through 2020 will be addressed.

"There's opportunity, but it's going to require endurance,” he said. “It's going to require continued focus."

'Decisive Action' Needed in Libya

A topic of discussion at NATO, Dunford said, will be the counter-ISIL fight -- not only core ISIL in Syria and Iraq, but also its expansion into Libya.

"We see the growth of ISIL in Libya,” he said, “and our assessment is that decisive action must be taken." Though it is premature to talk about a framework for a military campaign, he added, "I do believe that unchecked, ISIL will continue to expand."

The chairman said he will pose the question on what the best approach to take would be. That strategy, he said, might involve NATO or it might involve some other organizational construct.

Now that a legitimate government in Libya has been identified, Dunford said, the political track and the military campaign to deal with ISIL in Libya have to be integrated.

"We need to take decisive action against ISIL to prevent their expansion and roll them back, and we're looking at the best way to do that in the context of the political process," he said.

(Follow Lisa Ferdinando on Twitter: @FerdinandoDoD)