Joni Ernst

Remarks to General Nicholson on Military Operations in Afghanistan - Feb. 12, 2017

Joni Ernst
February 12, 2017— Washington, D.C.
Print friendly

ERNST: Thank you so much. It is great to see you back on American soil. Thank you for your continued service. I want to thank your family for their support of you, and for sharing you and your talents in a leadership capacity in a difficult theater of operations. So thank you and your family very much.

I like to pick up where we left off in Afghanistan when I visited a couple months ago. You better than most understand that a General had directed the establishment of the First Ranger Battalion many years ago. That was established in the Army.

He said this unit was to be "an elite light and most proficient infantry in the world. A battalion that can do more with its hands and weapons than anyone. Wherever it goes, it must be apparent that it is the best." today the army continues with the Abrams charter. We know this is for the betterment of those units, and to boost their performance.

We had a discussion about the Afghan regular forces, and how they were performing as they should be. -- they weren't performing as they should be. The Afghan Special Forces were performing quite well, but were over utilized. Is it time that the afghan army introduce an Abrams charter into its own forces and start sharing those talents with its own units to closed for performance as well? -- boost performance

GEN. NICHOLSON: Thank you first for your service. It was great that your unit you commanded was in Afghanistan at the time you visited. They deeply appreciated your visit. I appreciate your sentiments for my family.

With respect to the Ranger Regiment, the reason I was smiling is that you are hitting on a theme we are working on with the Afghans. I want to acknowledge the contributions made to Afghanistan. My personal security officer is a member of the 75th ranger regiment. He has 15 appointments to Afghanistan. The rangers are key in our counterterrorism is going forward. You are exactly right about the Abrams charter. In fact, in working with President Ghani, we have worked closely on how to leverage the excellence we have seen the Afghan Special Forces agreement the good of the army.

One of the hallmarks of the four year roadmap is to increase the size of the afghan special forces, because these units have proven so effective on the battlefield. We can't produce these units overnight, as you well know. It takes years to grow a special operations soldier, ranger, or commando. We are embark on a plan where they are recruiting more commandos now, and we are expanding those units one company at a time. In the four years we have gained by the Warsaw summit, we will have doubled the number of Special Forces units when we couple that with air force capability. This gives an offensive punch to the afghan security forces that the enemy cannot stand up to. The nucleus of Special Forces will provide the offense of capability to the afghan army to enable it to break the stalemate and expand their control over the country.

ERNST: Very good. I am glad to hear that. The spring, 300 marines are set to deploy duty Helman Province. That is quite a symbolic place for marines. Some estimates project 80% of the province is told by the Taliban, supplying them with 60% of their funding. It is my understanding that the marines are replacing an equally sized army units. That is currently deployed in the region. The chairman stated something that we are not really trying to win, just trying not to lose. Do you see this as moving the ball forward in the ability to help the Afghans. Are we going to continue to see losses?

GEN. NICHOLSON: We want to succeed in Afghanistan. We believe that success is critical to the United States, our NATO allies, and the Afghan people. This province is important to the television, because as a NARCO insurgency, this is what they get -- the Taliban, because as a NARCO insurgency, this is where they get their money. We have seen them trying to gain ground because of this.

The advisory effort at the end of 2014, we shrunk our advisory effort in this province quite significantly. In last year it became apparent that we needed to, instead of advising on an ad hoc basis, we needed to go in with the permanent structure, purpose built to advise. When we reached this conclusion, I reached out to the commandant to request his assistance. The marine corps has deep experience in the province. They have a lot of skin in the game. We wanted to see if the Marine Corps could come back and help us with this critical area. We are very grateful that the marines have stepped up to assist. We look forward to getting the team over there. They will be arriving this spring. When they come in, they will have a more structured advisory effort than we have had up to this point.

We have suffered casualties in our advising capacity this year sadly. This was in our Special Forces units accompanying afghan commandos on missions in Helman. Overall we will work hard to keep those potential for casualties to an absolute minimum. Sadly has there been -- there has been recent fighting. We had another Special Forces soldier wounded this morning before I walked into the hearing. This highlights the criticality of this region and the need to keep focused on the Afghan success.

The final piece is that the 2/15 corps, after the tough fight in 2015 we did a significant regeneration on the 215 corps. We have embarked on a significant regeneration effort. That is where the Afghans suffer high casualties. We have put in a new commander. He's been doing a great job. They do need our help with regeneration. We have a great governor who is doing a very good job. We have experienced problems with police corruption to a significant extent, which is undermining our efforts.

This is an area in relation to some of the earlier questions on corruption. Ghost soldiers and particular, where we are focused on. It is a comprehensive effort to get it back on track. Marines will play a key role in it.

ERNST: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.