Army Gen. Joseph Votel, the general with responsibility over the Middle East and South Asia, told reporters on Thursday that the administration is reviewing the Afghanistan war strategy, but that no big changes are expected.
The review is taking place about a year after the Trump administration announced its new plan, which entailed getting rid of any timelines for withdrawal, sending about 1,000 more U.S. troops to train and advise Afghan soldiers on the battlefield, hitting the Taliban and its financial sources harder, and increasing pressure on Pakistan.
The additional troops arrived in Afghanistan in February, and officials say the strategy has only been fully resourced for less than 100 days, but Votel said the administration is taking a look at the strategy to see what is working and what could be improved.
“Obviously we are a professional military organization. We always want to assess the things we’re doing and how we’re making progress on this, and make sure that we make course corrections as we move forward. So, you know, a year into this we are doing that. I think that’s what you’re seeing at the Department of Defense, and more broadly across the U.S. government,” Votel said.
Votel said he is not anticipating any significant course corrections or changes at this point.
“I don’t envision something that I see right now, that would likely lead to a major change in the overall strategy, which I believe is showing progress.”
The four-star general expressed optimism with how the strategy is working so far.
First, he said the Afghan Security Forces are expanding their capabilities and proficiency every day. Second, he said getting rid of timelines for withdrawal allowed for the conditions for a the first ever nationwide cease-fire. Third, the Afghan government has registered about 70 percent of eligible voters in the upcoming parliamentary elections.
However, he also pointed out that Pakistan needed to “step forward.”
“What we need to see is we need to see Pakistan continue to press in the areas of helping to reduce the violence in Afghanistan by their actions against Taliban or Haqqani who reside in their particular areas. And they can do that in a variety of ways: by arresting them, by expelling them, putting pressure on them to do that. And we also need to see them continue to make efforts to compel the Taliban to come to the table and take advantage of these opportunities,” he said.
“And this, I think, really are the key things that we have asked for them, and we have seen some — over the last several months, some promising opportunities. And we have seen Pakistan move in some of the directions that we have asked them to, but we need to see that in a much more strategic way and longer-term way as we press forward,” he added.
As to growing impatience among the American public as to when the war would end, Votel said these kinds of insurgencies take time to defeat.
“These things often take time,” he said. “And I think as you look at other examples around the world of where we have seen these insurgencies, or the threat of terrorist organizations, they oftentimes do take time.”