Editor's note: This story was originally published March 11, 2016, at 6:34 p.m. EST.

The soon-to-retire former commander of the war in Afghanistan, who is about to retire, said he urged the White House to take a more aggressively approach to targeting the Taliban insurgency and expand the American-led training mission for the Afghan security forces. 

"I asked for a whole bunch of authorities," Army Gen. John Campbell said Friday in one of his final interviews with reporters at the Pentagon.

"I'm not going to get more people. So the only way I can impact is to potentially change some of the authorities we have. Authorities deal with what you can strike, what you can't strike. What levels you can do train-advise-and-assist, those kinds of things," Campbell said.

Campbell, who spent 19 months as the top commander in Kabul, said he finalized his recommendations for Washington shortly before he stepped down on March 2. He was replaced by Army Gen. John "Mick" Nicholson.

Campbell's recommendations remain under review at the Pentagon and the White House.

The change of command in Kabul comes at a time when Taliban insurgents are gaining ground, particularly in Helmand province. Top officials are reviewing President Obama's current plans to cut the current force of about 10,000 American troops to 5,500 by the end of the year.

Campbell declined to comment on his formal recommendations regarding troop levels. Many military officials believe the current force should remain in place into next year.

Nicholson said he plans to conduct a review and offer his own views on the Afghanistan mission's future. Campbell said he's met several times with Nicholson and "I think we're pretty close in where we throught we wanted to go. He's got to put his own stamp on it."

Campbell questioned the current rules that limit U.S. forces' authority to target the Taliban to only situations where the Taliban is threatening U.S. forces. Changing those authorities and loosening the restrictions is one way to halt the Taliban’s momentum, he said. 

"They have to have more pressure put on them and one way to do that is to potentially strike them," Campbell said of the Taliban.

"Now, I'm not advocating for 'Let's go back and be committed to a total war against the Taliban.' I think there are ways to work through that … but that is one way to go after them."

Eventually the war, now in its 15th year, will end with a reconciliation between the Taliban and the American-backed Afghanistan government, the general said.

"Right now, the Taliban in some places… they think they are operating from a positon of strength," Cambell said.

More aggressive U.S. air strikes could put "more pressure" on the Taliban and "drive them to reconciliation," the general said.

Campbell also said he'd like to see fewer restrictions on the train-advise-and-assist mission supporting the Afghan forces. Currently that is limited to the Corps and ministerial level, with no U.S. troops alongside Afghans at the brigade and battalion, or Kandak, level.

"I think there are times when we should be able to advise specific units, maybe below the corps level, that could make a difference," Campbell said.

Campbell oversaw the end of the "combat mission" in Afghanistan in December 2014 and the transition to the current mission, which that is essentially limited to training the Afghan Army and mounting some counter-terrorism operations. 

Today's security environment in Afghanistan requires more flexibility than the mission that was outlined more than a year ago, Campbell said.

One major change that the White House approved in January was expanded authority to target the Islamic State faction that is emerging in Nangarhar province. 

Before January, U.S. aircraft could only target ISIS militants if they threatened U.S. forces. But the expanded authority allows air strikes on Islamic State militants under any circumstances. 

The shift from "conduct-based' authorities to "status-based" authorities to target the Islamic State group has helped reduce its presence from several districts in Nangarhar to a single district, Campbell said.

While the "status-based" authority for targeting ISIS has been helpful, Campbell said his recommendations for the Taliban stop short of seeking that kind of broad authority.

"I'm asking for several authorities. But status-based targeting for the Taliban is not one of them," he said.

"I think you've got to give the guys on the ground the ability to make some decisions on the ground there that are a little bit different than what we thought on 1 January 2015," he said.

Ultimately, Campbell said, the impact of expanded U.S. military authorities may be limited.

"We can have all the authorities we want, if the Afghan's aren't doing what they need to do, it's not going to make a difference," Campbell said.

Andrew Tilghman is the executive editor for Military Times. He is a former Military Times Pentagon reporter and served as a Middle East correspondent for the Stars and Stripes. Before covering the military, he worked as a reporter for the Houston Chronicle in Texas, the Albany Times Union in New York and The Associated Press in Milwaukee.

In Other News
Load More