What Does Dunford’s Confirmation Hearing Tell Us About the Path Forward in Afghanistan?

Dunford at the hearing.

Yesterday, both Marcy and I discussed significant events that could have a tremendous impact on what lies ahead for the role of the US in Afghanistan. Marcy found that for the first time, the Treasury Department has named a Taliban figure in Afghanistan as a narcotics trafficking drug kingpin. That means, as Marcy points out, that “We’ve got the Global War on Drugs in Afghanistan now” and could have cover for staying on indefinitely in order to cut the flow of drugs. I pointed out that the negotiations have just begun on developing a Status of Forces Agreement which will define the conditions under which US troops could remain in Afghanistan beyond the scheduled handover of security responsibility to the Afghans at the end of 2014. The US wants to keep a number of troops in place, but only if full legal immunity can be conferred on them. The US failed to achieve an immunity agreement in Iraq and subsequently withdrew all troops. With two years remaining before the handoff deadline, look for the negotiations to go very slowly.

Yesterday also saw the confirmation hearing for General Joseph Dunford, who has been nominated to replace General John Allen in charge of US and NATO troops in Afghanistan. The hearing had been scheduled jointly for Allen’s promotion as head of NATO, but his involvement in an email scandal with Jill Kelley has put that hearing on hold. I was unable to watch the hearing and the video archive of the hearing at the Senate Armed Services Committee website has not yet gone live. (I’ve also been unable to find a transcript. If anyone runs across one, please post the link in comments.)

One key issue revolves around what the recommendation will be for how fast troops should be drawn down leading up to the handoff of security responsibility at the end of 2014. Of course, as mentioned above, the not-yet-negotiated SOFA will dictate whether and how many troops will remain beyond that date, but there still is the strategic question of how quickly combat operations will be drawn down and whether that includes actual troop withdrawals.

Perhaps because Dunford was not nominated for the position until early October, we learned in the hearing that he has not been present during any meetings at which General Allen has been preparing his recommendation for the drawdown plan:

Gen. Joseph Dunford, President Obama’s pick to take command of the Afghanistan war within months, revealed in Senate testimony on Thursday that he has not been included in Gen. John Allen’s highly-anticipated war recommendations currently being deliberated in the White House and Pentagon.

Dunford, under pointed questioning by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said he has been kept in the dark, during his confirmation hearing before the Armed Services Committee.

“Do you know what those recommendations are?” McCain asked.

“Sir, I have not been included in those conversations,” Dunford replied.

“Boy, that’s — that’s interesting to me,” McCain remarked. “The guy that’s going to take over the command has not even been included in those conversations. Do you feel prepared to assume these responsibilities?”

It appears to me that Dunford plans his own review and I would not be surprised if the Obama administration uses the change in leadership as an excuse to delay any decisions on the drawdown plan until Dunford’s recommendation has been completed. The Defense Department’s summary of the hearing included this on Dunford’s planned review:

If confirmed, Dunford said, he will evaluate current plans for drawing down the remaining 68,000 troops in Afghanistan. Weighing that against conditions on the ground and the Afghan national security forces’ capabilities, he said, he hopes to gauge exactly what type and size force the United States will need to meet its objectives.

“As I make a recommendation, I will look at the strength of the enemy,” he said. “I will look at the capabilities and capacities of the Afghan national security forces, judge the capability and capacity of the coalition forces and then make a recommendation on what our force contribution ought to be between now and 2014, and then beyond as we go into the decade of transformation.”

Dunford’s comments here, at least in the Defense Department write-up, appear in the overall context of the capabilities of the Afghan National Security Forces. Training and capability of this force has been one of my major focus areas, so of course I want to take a careful look at what Dunford says here:

Reporting on his recent visit to Afghanistan, Dunford said he was impressed by the impact of NATO Training Mission Afghanistan in developing the Afghan national security forces. “I really believe over the last 18 months that their performance has significantly improved as a result of the training being provided by NTMA,” he said.

Dunford recalled his first trip to Afghanistan, in 2008, when coalition forces outnumbered trained Afghan national security forces 10 to 1. Those Afghan forces “had very little training and very poor equipment,” he said.

The timeline for growing the force to 352,000 members has slipped slightly, but the general said all the troops have been recruited and many trained. “My expectation, based on my recent visit, is that training will be completed by early 2013,” he said.

Dunford said he found the transformation among these troops encouraging, noting that they now provide security for 76 percent of all Afghans. “We have actually had corps-level operations in Regional Command South, planned and executed by the Afghans alone,” he said. “From my perspective today, the Afghans have the capability, with the support we are providing, to provide security.”

With this progress, and continued coalition support, “I believe the Afghan national security forces will be able to meet the security requirements in Afghanistan,” he said.

There is a very interesting, but subtle, change from the DoD’s previous statements on ANSF training here. Dunford now is distinguishing between forces merely being recruited and being fully trained. Dunford says that recruiting for a force size of 352,000 has been completed but that the timetable for them being full members of the force, and fully trained, “has slipped slightly”. What doesn’t appear here is any reference to the massive outbreak of green on blue killings that disrupted the training process completely. I have stated many times that I expect this training disruption, and the accompanying re-screening of recruits, to eventually result in the 352,000 force size to be reduced greatly, perhaps to as low as 250,000, simply because there is no way that the larger figure can be achieved in a “fully trained” status, even with the way DoD games the description of training.

Finally, as Spencer Ackerman pointed out, Dunford’s remarks come from a basic position that the US is more or less never going to leave Afghanistan:

During his confirmation hearing to take command in Kabul, Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday that the U.S. needs to present a “clear and compelling narrative of commitment” to Afghanistan, beyond the 2014 timeframe for turning over security to the Afghans. Step one is to negotiate the contours of a post-2014 U.S. force in Afghanistan, to “create momentum for that narrative that I was alluding to.”


“It’s a question of confidence in the Afghan people that we will remain, confidence in the Afghanistan national security forces that we will remain,” confidence in the “capitals that we will remain,” and confidence among “regional actors that we will remain,” Dunford said. Constructing that narrative, in his view, is a hedge against the Taliban waiting the U.S. out and U.S. allies and adversaries alike preparing for the fall of the Washington-backed Afghan government.

Ackerman points out how the Obama administration has made many public claims that the US will be getting out of Afghanistan at the end of 2014. Could Dunford wind up getting his wish to stay on long beyond that deadline? Well, there is precedent for generals manipulating Obama to get what they want. Here’s Michael Hastings on Petraeus getting his Afghanistan surge:

Petraeus was so convincing on Baghdad that he manipulated President Obama into trying the same thing in Kabul. In Afghanistan, he first underhandedly pushed the White House into escalating the war in September 2009 (calling up columnists to “box” the president in) and waged a full-on leak campaign to undermine the White House policy process. Petraeus famously warned his staff that the White House was “fucking” with the wrong guy.

Stay tuned. The fight for whether and how long we will keep fighting in Afghanistan is just getting started. At least Ackerman found that some who usually favor any war they can get may be finally getting their fill:

Senators on the panel did not sound convinced. A frustrated Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), one of the war’s biggest congressional supporters, called Dunford a “blank slate” and made the surprising statement that if the U.S. “can’t accomplish the mission, I’m not sure why we should stay.” Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said the “lack of progress [and] the surge in insider attacks paint a rather bleak picture.” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) mused about cutting off funding for the war if the U.S. withdraws too many troops to perform the residual missions Dunford outline. The panel’s chairman, Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), however, encouraged Dunford to “present the positives” in Afghanistan and swiped at the media for emphasizing the negatives.

Many years ago, Jim got a BA in Radiation Biophysics from the University of Kansas. He then got a PhD in Molecular Biology from UCLA and did postdoctoral research in yeast genetics at UC Berkeley and mouse retroviruses at Stanford. He joined biosys in Palo Alto, producing insect parasitic nematodes for pest control. In the early 1990’s, he moved to Gainesville, FL and founded a company that eventually became Entomos. He left the firm as it reorganized into Pasteuria Biosciences and chose not to found a new firm due a clash of values with venture capital investors, who generally lack all values. Upon leaving, he chose to be a stay at home dad, gentleman farmer, cook and horse wrangler. He discovered the online world through commenting at Glenn Greenwald’s blog in the Salon days and was involved in the briefly successful Chris Dodd move to block the bill to renew FISA. He then went on to blog at Firedoglake and served a brief stint as evening editor there. When the Emptywheel blog moved out of Firedoglake back to standalone status, Jim tagged along and blogged on anthrax, viruses, John Galt, Pakistan and Afghanistan. He is now a mostly lapsed blogger looking for a work-around to the depressing realization that pointing out the details of government malfeasance and elite immunity has approximately zero effect.
30 replies
  1. DonS says:

    I never take too much of McCain’s hyperbole and bluster all that seriously. And to be fair, the context for his statement about bugging out was more a rhetorical flair the whole sense of which was:

    “Go all in or go home. An exasperated Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) offered that stunning new take on the war in Afghanistan on Thursday, saying the U.S. should either halt the drawdown from Afghanistan and leave 68,000 troops there to fight through 2014, or consider ending the war altogether.) ” (per EW’s link)

    And we have heard Obama saying during the campaign (bolstered by the knowledge that Betraeus was on the way out ???) that the US was getting out of Afghanistan by 2014 which, we have come to know, doesn’t mean a damn thing except redefinition of troop status, unless the Afghanis kick us out).

    I really don’t see much new here: the Congressional blusterers blustering, maybe more than usual because their beloved institutions of belligerency have been tarnished — though we know their heart is in more war when push comes to shove. And Obama playing the political game of “we’re going to say we’re withdrawing, but if you read between the lines, it ain’t so” because we take our marching orders from the MIC.

  2. Frank33 says:

    Another Party at 1005 Bay Shore! It is to help the homeless.

    And another White House Official is doing some social laisoning with Jill, or Natalie. He hosted her, probably like she never was hosted before. Could there possibly be e-mails?

    And I expect his resignation quite quickly…3…2…1

    The official said the White House aide who hosted her met the Kelley family at MacDill Air Force Base near Tampa.

  3. Brindle says:

    Is it a bug or a feature?
    I just googled “petraeus” on Google News and sorted by newest, every one of ten articles that came up was by WaPo.

  4. Frank33 says:

    Stop it just stop it. But the twins will not stop it.

    Jill is talking. She says Paula is a criminal, and there is Marco Rubio, General Mattis wanted to give her a ride home but she went with the mayor instead, and the twins visited the White House, twice.

    Has the White House Host been fired yet?

  5. marksb says:

    Dunford isn’t included in the decision process or even presentation of Allen’s recommendations, but he’s going to have command over it.

    This is looking more and more like Dilbert in uniform.

  6. GulfCoastPirate says:

    Word is the Gazans shot down an Israeli F16 and have the pilot. Any chance they got hold of some of those stingers floating around in Libya/Syria?

  7. GulfCoastPirate says:

    Word is the Gazans shot down an Israeli F16 and have the pilot. Any chance they got hold of some of those stingers floating around in Libya/Syria?

  8. DonS says:


    Whoa, that should heat things up; collective punishment, you ain’t seen nothing yet. The Israelis don’t like to lose even one of their precious brethren, though it’s unclear what happened to the pilot I guess. As for the hardware, not to worry of course. Replacements are already in the pipeline, according to US law, keeping the Israelis with a ‘qualitative edge’.

    As long as we’re OT, for comparison to the Israeli/AIPAC/might as well say US propaganda machine:


  9. What Constitution? says:

    Mr. White, I commend your first sentence’s choice of words in framing our future in Afghanistan: “What lies ahead”. There will be many more, I’m sure.

  10. Frank33 says:

    Jill says Paula was stalking them all. But Jill’s e-mails to General Allen seem to be compromising enough. General Allen may have to retire to a military contractor job. But there is a new General who may be twistng slowly in the wind. General Mattis has had his morale raised by Jill.

    Paula remains a member in good standing in the Secret Government. She is also a wife and mother. Paula goes to the White House for war planning to kill other wives and children.

    Broadwell also visited the White House complex, meeting at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in June 2009 with a staffer who deals with Afghanistan and Pakistan policy. In June 2011 she sat in on a briefing of Afghanistan-Pakistan policy, hours before President Barack Obama gave a prime-time speech on the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan.

    Then there is the mysterious White House Host who was a lawyer in Afghansitan and then met Jill in Florida-Stan…

  11. DonS says:


    You know, this may get me banned here (doubt it), or make me swear off following these stories, but folks like Paula and her invented resume make me want to puke. I imagine it’s sexist, but I’ve seen it up close and personal before. We used to call it,in our pre-politically correct days, screwing your way to the top.

    Sorry for that ;-)

  12. Frank33 says:

    Paula has been invented several times, being a spooky spy. The Kelley’s are grifters. But they have gotten their slimey clutches into three branches of the Military, Congress, and the Adminstration. I do not understand why there is no Air Force General getting laisoned.

    But most if not all these people are monsters or their accomplices with blood on their hands and they want more.

    As for your comment, it is very restrained.

  13. marksb says:

    @DonS: To be fair, when I witnessed the sub-species of sexually advancing female exec, I figured they were the female eqiv to the myriads of MBA/kiss-up/knife-you-in-the-back/asshole guys I had to work with over the years. ‘Cept there are way more of those guys in the world.

  14. DonS says:

    @Frank33: I think that the Air Force is terminally into the Biblical protection racket in Colorado Springs.

    Actually, living here in Virginia Tech territory, the Air Force ROTC on campus is 1) huge 2) incredibly tight 3)pretty damn professional. I think they would give the Academy a run for the money when it comes to turning out prepared material. I’ve been tempted, as I ride about campus on my bike and watch the student ROTC types making their 90 degree turn to enter the hallowed military buildings, to stop one or two and ask them what they make of the current disgrace being brought upon the military. My guess, and I’m likely to be wrong as right, is they would see the whole enterprise like a big corporation. Impersonal and amoral. Would have been different 25 years ago I suspect.

  15. klynn says:

    I am not a fan of “what if” thinking…

    But the headlines over the past few weeks have me “what if-ing…”

    -So back in the Spring we have Anna Chapman and her “close to the WH” honeypots:

    -Now we have women “involved” at high levels? (Were the twins honeypots?)
    Is the WH contact the same as Anna’s? Just thinking out loud here.

    -An FBI agent known for his fantastic sleuthing skills… (photo aside) Was he watching our “own” shop down in FL – both CIA and military? Or, “watching” for someone else? Going to Cantor was normal process? Would like to know more about his lawyer.

    -high profile spy lawyers/and one with a background in “cover-ups”

    -Putin firing his defense minister and two other defense high command in the past week due to “scandal.”

    -Everything with Israel going on -escalation during our own distraction

    – Prior to the election we find out Netanyahu pretty much hates Obama and loves Romney:

    -Rove’s computer programs fail to deliver on the election?

    -Hatching a Jimmy Carter Event as an October surprise that seems to be backfiring? Lots of GOP involved in the actual “Jimmy Carter Event” of Benghazi? And the general makes a secret trip back to “investigate.”

    -Cantor is involved?

    -Harmon being floated as new head of CIA?

    -Putin confronts Israel, we back Israel up

    This is madness! All this going on in such a tight time frame…I do not know what is going on but the convergence of international issues is interesting. Craziness at this level may sometimes mean they are threads to the same story. Who knows.

    I don’t know. Just amazes me this is all going on.

  16. Frank33 says:

    Tampa Bay Times adds some more context. Jill skydived with Commandoes. That is dangerous. Commandoes! There could be Emails. Jill met our highest ranking leaders such as they are, in Dee Cee. Perhaps they dined in Georgetown.

    “I’m up in DC having dinner tonight with Gen Petraeus & Gen John Allen,” Kelley says in one 2012 email to Buckhorn…

    On Oct. 24, the sisters had lunch in the White House Mess with a White House staffer. That followed a Sept. 28 breakfast between the same three people…

    The man worked as a civilian lawyer in Afghanistan and got to know military personnel, who invited him to MacDill, where he met Kelley. He now works as a lawyer in the White House.

    Natalie has been to the White House also. She has kept a low profile because she is being pursued for a lawsuit, her own against her former boss. I mistakenly said Natalie is dodging “dispositions”. Natalie is dodging “Depositions”.

    Other prominent war profiteers are becoming concerned with the attention given to their corrupt and criminal behavior.

  17. DonS says:

    @Frank33: But apparently Jill and
    Scottie couldn’t be bothered to pay outstanding mortgage debt. And sister Natalie seems like and equal or more bizarre piece of work. Just from a quick Google:

    “Superior Court Judge Neal Kravitz said this of twin sister Natalie Khawan in his November 2011 ruling:

    “Ms. [Natalie] Khawan appears to lack any appreciation or respect for the importance of honesty and integrity in her interactions with her family, employers and others with whom she comes in contact.

    “The Huffington Post noted:

    “Not only did the judge in the case award her ex-husband custody last year of their 3-year-old son, John, but he also told Khawam to pay his legal bills amounting to $350,000. Khawam filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in April after racking up more than $3 million in debt, according to federal court records.

    “Jill Kelley’s husband Scott, a surgeon, defaulted on sizable mortgage loans and credit card debt according to the Tampa Tribune. The Tribune noted:

    “Regions Bank filed a foreclosure lawsuit against Jill and Scott Kelley in April 2010, claiming they failed to make payments on the mansion where they often entertained Gen. Petreaus, Gen. John Allen and other top military men. The bank demands repayment of $1.8 million in principal and interest on the mortgage and is foreclosing on the property.”


  18. Frank33 says:

    The Husband of Spyfall, Scott Kelley is a MD Doctor. They had a fake “Charity”, a mini-me Komen Foundation. How ethical is it for a physician to do that?

  19. joanneleon says:

    @klynn: Klynn, how can you not speculate with the things that have been flying around for the past few weeks? I mean, it’s impossible. I rarely bother with the gossip kind of stuff and successfully ignored every tempest in a teapot for the entire interminable campaign season. Really, I just don’t go for things like that. But there are so many things that reek with these recent events, it’s impossible not to speculate or be a bit preoccupied by it. And you’re right, there is madness in all of this.

  20. marksb says:

    @joanneleon: Gossip, yes, and in spades. But it’s so much more: the highest-of-the-high generals, the people so honored and In Command, of whom presidential candidates say “I’ll listen to my generals” when asked about defense and war…to turn out to be such idiotic fools, acting like underclass Academy cadets, putting the country’s security at risk…

  21. marksb says:

    @P J Evans: There are far more non-profits around than we would believe. If you have a foundation, and you raise significant funds, well…the non-profit needs an Executive Director, who gets a nice salary. Isn’t that the American Way?

  22. Frank33 says:

    P4 has another problem thanks to Jill. Jill was going to get 2% of a 4 Billion dollar clean coal deal. Did P4 help Jill get to be Honorary Consul General Jill? There are 3rd parties and well wired people helping Jill

    The Conspiracy gets bigger and bigger. And there is no clean coal.

    “The magic name was Petraeus. And it was coming from third parties, as well as from her.”
    Victor recalled meeting with Kelley, 37, outside a VIP suite at the Republican convention in Tampa earlier this year.

    The buzz around the attractive brunette was that Petraeus — a close friend who had visited her home — had boosted Kelley for the consul position that she received in August.

    “A very well-wired person in the Tampa area suggested we contact her,” Victor said. “He said she was a very close friend of David Petraeus, and (Petraeus) arranged for her to be appointed honorary consul to South Korea…

    Victor said he wondered if Kelley was a CIA agent when she made the staggering request. And he added that such lobbying efforts by an individual typically come with a $1 million check.

  23. Nathanael says:

    Honestly, anyone viewing this from a dispassionate historical view would conclude that the people running the US military are either idiots, or in league with the Taliban. The US has already lost in Afghanistan, and will continue to lose. Any soldiers sent there are useful primarily as cannon fodder to train the Taliban, which appears to be the US’s primary accomplishment. By the time the US leaves — and the US will leave because eventually it will not have sufficient resources to stay, just as the US eventually left Vietnam — the Taliban will be a truly fearsome fighting force with national support throughout Afghanistan. US policy seems to be designed to promote the Taliban more than anything else. It is quite extraordinary.

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