WASHINGTON – The top U.S. commander in the Middle East said he does not expect a significant change in the war in Afghanistan strategy this autumn, when a new general takes over the campaign a year after the Trump administration unveiled a broad new plan for the solution of the 17-year-old conflict.
Army Gen. Joseph Votel told reporters that the campaign of military, social and political pressure to force the Taliban to the peace table is still valid. Incoming Afghanistan commander Army Gen. Scott Miller will make his own assessment of war progress, Votel said, but he can make tactical changes on the ground fighting, “I don’t think that will result in a new look to the strategy of the overall approach here.”
Votel also said that the reconciliation plan does not extend to a Islamic State fighters in Afghanistan.
“While we apply the military pressure against the Taliban to bring them to the table of reconciliation, we harbor no illusion about the reconciliation with ISIS-K,” said Votel, the use of the abbreviation of the Islamic State affiliate in Afghanistan. “Our mission is to destroy this organization.”
Last week a few hundred fighters of the Islamic State affiliate gave himself over to the Afghan forces in the northern province of Jawzjan. Votel said the fighters were taken to the government detention facilities and will be held responsible for any war crimes they have committed. He said that the AMERICAN army will be able to question them.
According to local Afghan government officials, the fighters surrendered after the Taliban overrun reinforcements in two districts in the past few weeks. The Taliban and are both fighting for the overthrow of the Western-backed government and impose a harsh form of Islamic rule, but fiercely divided over leadership, ideology and tactics.
The number of Islamic State insurgents in Afghanistan has fluctuated, and they are largely limited to Jawzjan and the eastern provinces of Nangarhar and kunar. The estimates vary from a few hundreds to a few thousand.
Votel said the surrender of a large group suggests that the fight against the group expires. He said that he believes that the group will not be able to expand and force has lost in Afghanistan.
The group, however, is able to control the behavior of a number of high-profile, deadly attacks in Afghanistan, are often focused on the Afghan security forces and the country’s Shiite minority.