The Pentagon’s nominee to lead operations in Afghanistan claimed Thursday that less U.S. troops in Afghanistan could lead to a higher risk for another major terrorist attack on the U.S.
U.S. Army Lt. Gen. John Nicholson made the comments during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee. Pending confirmation from the Senate, Nicholson will take over command of Operation Resolute Support, the U.S.-led NATO mission to provide “training, advice and assistance” in Afghanistan.
Nicholson was responding to a question posed by Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC), who asked if a lower U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan could lead to another terrorist attack similar to those seen on September 11, 2001 on U.S. soil.
“What’s the likelihood of another 9/11 being generated from Afghanistan if we went down to 1,000 troops in January 2017?” asked Graham.
“Sir, I’d be concerned that we would not be able to perform our counter-terrorism mission,” responded Nicholson.
“Would you say it would be high?” asked Graham in a follow-up.
“It would be definitely higher, sir,” said Nicholson.
Nicholson is set to replace the Afghanistan command from Gen. John Campbell, who will reportedly be retiring. Nicholson currently heads NATO’s Allied Land Command in Turkey, which is responsible for the readiness of NATO’s land forces.
Nicholson will enter his new role at a precarious time for Afghanistan, which has seen a resurgence from Taliban forces in recent months, in addition to a new ISIS affiliate and a continued threat posed by al-Qaida.
“Would we fight for Kandahar?” asked Graham, alluding to Afghanistan’s second largest city, “if there was an offensive tomorrow or next week or next month where the Taliban were able to generate forces to put Kandahar at risk, would we sit on the sidelines like we did in Mosul, or … would you recommend that we fight to keep Kandahar from falling into the hands of the Taliban?”
“Sir we’d need to prevent Kandahar from falling into the hands of the Taliban,” replied Nicholson.
Graham alluded to Kandahar as being the spiritual center of the Taliban, which Nicholson acknowledged. The area has seen a significant rise in Taliban and al-Qaeda activity in recent months. In October 2015, U.S. special forces and their Afghan counterparts raided two large al-Qaeda training camps in Kandahar, one of which covered 30 square miles.
The Institute for the Study of War, a Washington D.C. think-tank which follows the conflict in Afghanistan, has said in a report that attacks by the Taliban since 2014 are “not typical of the previous two years” and have been “high profile.”
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