The US commander in Afghanistan has hinted that the Nato occupation of the country will last another eight years.
General John Campbell told the Senate armed services committee on Wednesday that President Barack Obama’s proposal to cut troop levels would leave too few personnel to train Afghan security forces.
When pressed, he stated that those forces could not operate independently until 2024.
Mr Obama originally wanted to reduce the US contingent from 9,800 to 5,500 by the end of last year, then down to 1,000 by the end of this year with the aim of ending the occupation before he leaves office in 2017.
But he backtracked on that pledge last October, pushing back the reduction to 5,500 to some time towards the end of 2016.
Republican senators backed Gen Campbell’s assessment on Wednesday.
“Fifty-five hundred militarily will not allow you to do what you need to do,” said committee member Lindsey Graham, a senator for South Carolina. “It puts the whole mission at risk.”
North Carolina Senator Thom Tillis said a reduction would do more than undercut the training mission.
“We’re missing an enormous opportunity to continue to stabilise the region, but also to … gain intelligence against people who are planning attacks,” he said. “I think we’re at the low-water mark where we are today.”
A recent analysis in US magazine Foreign Policy found that the Taliban now controls more territory than at any time since the 2001 US-led invasion.
During a House of Representatives hearing on Tuesday, California Congresswoman Jackie Speier asked whether US citizens should accept that their country’s forces would be in Afghanistan permanently, as they are in South Korea.
Gen Campbell countered that the US presence in Afghanistan was far smaller than that in South Korea.
But he envisaged Afghanistan’s army fighting a proxy war against US enemies for “the rest of our lives.
“We have to do everything we can to build up capability for countries, like Afghanistan, to help us in that fight,” he said. “And they want to do that.”