There’s a lot of freedom at the end of a career, no matter why it’s ending. Sometimes your only recourse is to go full Kanye with your resignation. And although we may never know what kind of a dancer General John Campbell is, we do know that on his way out the door as commander of all NATO and US forces in Afghanistan, he gave the Pentagon deuces as only a retiring general can.
As as parting shot, Campbell is reported to have asked for authority to target the Taliban as a whole, rather than just individual leaders. It’s the kind of authority that used to be part of super scary Operation Enduring Freedom, but now that the US is doing the much less creepy Operation Freedom’s Sentinel, that mandate has changed.
— Kelsey D. Atherton (@AthertonKD) December 28, 2014
And since JC’s headed back to the house, opting to retire rather than take over as commander of AFRICOM, he wasn’t asking for himself. He’s asking for the now-current commander, Gen. John W. “Mick” Nicholson Jr., who besides a super cool nickname, pioneered “Bring Your Wife To War Day” in Kunduz on his Afghan apology tour.
According to the Post, Campbell’s request ruffled a few Pentagon feathers, since senior leaders there claimed the general had sent his recommendations directly to the White House, rather than going through his chain of command. Something that Campbell denied, an assertion supported by U.S. Central Command.
Whether he jumped his chain of command or not, the specifics of what Campbell asked for aren’t known, but whatever it was, it was designed to help close some of the gaps in Afghan capability. Which, according to one official, includes air power:
“The Afghans won’t have any real air power capability until 2017. . . . We can take more of the edge off the enemy until their capabilities are fully online.”
The technical response to that statement is this: bullshit. The Afghans have aerial combat power, and have for years. Not a lot of it, and not as much as they’d like, but they have it. And not so long ago, Gen. Campbell testified on the Hill that he pushed back on requests for more air support on a regular basis.
“What I tell the Afghans is, ‘Don’t plan your operations wholly dependent on close air support. You have the capability. The Taliban doesn’t have close air support, the Taliban doesn’t have up-armored Humvees, the Taliban doesn’t have D-30 howitzers.’ So a part of it is just leadership, again. So when I get a request that says, ‘Hey, I need close air support,’ the first thing I ask them is, ‘Do you have a Quick Reaction Force out there? Have you fired your mortars? Have you fired your artillery? Have you taken your Mi-17 (Russian helicopters) that have forward-firing machine guns on them? You have a few Mi-35s. Have you used them?’”
What Campbell’s asking for runs counter to US plans to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table. And like all good generals, whatever suggestions he made, he asked for more than what he hoped he would get. One of the things he got, whether part of this request or no, was more authorization to strike Daesh in Afghanistan.
And the US has jumped on that chance, taking the fight to the air on a level we haven’t seen in a couple of years. Whether airstrikes are also going to get the chance to target the Taliban is unknown. Either way, the general left on a high note.
Also published on Medium.