The Army Won't Say If Afghan Forces Can Handle A US Withdrawal Yet

Operation Enduring Freedom Turns 17

If your words of the day today were "cautious optimism," you're in luck, because Army Col. Dave Zinn, who recently returned from Afghanistan, offered exactly that to reporters on Wednesday.

The Afghan security forces are "now in the lead," and October's parliamentary elections proved their resiliency, said Zinn, commander of the 2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, who recently served as deputy commander of the Train, Advise, and Assist Command-South in Kandahar.

"The fact that in the face of Taliban threats to the Afghan people, that we observed long lines of Afghans standing in line waiting to vote and then casting their vote, tells me a couple of things," Zinn told reporters on Wednesday. "No. 1: The Afghan people have confidence in the Afghan security forces. And number two, that they see the elections as important for the future of their country."

He also said local leaders in southern Afghanistan told them, "The Afghan people are tired of the fighting, and yearn for peace."

But with U.S. and Taliban negotiators taking tentative steps towards that peace during talks in Qatar this week, there's a larger question on everyone's mind: When will Afghanistan not need U.S. and coalition assistance anymore?

President Donald Trump tweeted on Wednesday that peace negotiations with the Taliban "are proceeding well," possibly signaling that a full U.S. troop withdrawal could be near. Indeed, the Taliban claimed last week that foreign forces would vacate the country within 18 months under a draft peace agreement.

But just this December, the incoming head of U.S. Central Command told Congress that Afghan security forces would collapse if U.S. forces pulled out.

"If we left precipitously right now, I do not believe they would be able to successfully defend their country. I don't know how long it's going to take," Marine Lt. Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr. told lawmakers during his confirmation hearing. "I think that one of the things that would actually provide the most damage to them would be if we put a time line on it and we said we were going out at a certain point in time."

"As we've seen when we precipitously withdrew from Iraq earlier, certain effects probably follow from that," he added.

Zinn couldn't speak to the larger strategic-level question of whether the Afghan government could stand on its own, but he did say the Afghan troops he mentored had gotten better during his time in country, although his assessment remained cautious.

"I would certainly hesitate to use the word 'dramatic' improvement," he said.

SEE ALSO: General McChrystal Told Pompeo To 'Muddle Along' In Afghanistan, Leaked Audio Reveals

WATCH NEXT: President Trump Attempts To Explain USSR-Afghanistan History

The book "Strange Defeat" details how France was conquered by Nazi Germany in 1940, but it could just as well describe President Donald Trump's record as commander in chief.

For someone who crows about winning all the time, the president seems to lose quite a bit. Since October 6, he has given Turkish President Recep Tayyip everything he has ever wanted by abandoning the U.S. military's best allies in Syria, allowing Turkey to establish a safe zone along its border with Turkey that expels all Kurdish forces, and withdrawing most U.S. troops from northeast Syria – allowing Russia to fill the vacuum.

What did he get in return? He gets to gloat that he made good on his campaign promise to end one of the U.S. military's commitments overseas and bring the troops home. (Although, a better way of saying it is that he allowed Turkey to chase out U.S. forces, who had to leave Syria so quickly that they did not have time to take high value ISIS prisoners into custody and they had to bomb one of their own ammunition dumps.)

Read More Show Less
U.S. Military Academy Class of 2022 conducted a 12 mile road march as family and former graduates cheered them on, concluding six weeks of Cadet Basic Training Aug. 13, 2018. (U.S. Army photo by Matthew Moeller)

Search efforts are underway to find a West Point cadet, who has gone missing along with his M4 carbine, the U.S. Military Academy announced on Sunday.

"There is no indication the Cadet poses a threat to the public, but he may be a danger to himself," a West Point news release says.

Academy officials do not believe the missing cadet has access to any magazines or ammunition, according to the news release, which did not identify the cadet, who is a member of the Class of 2021.

Read More Show Less
Soldiers from the 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division in their Bradley Fighting Vehicle during Marne Focus at Fort Stewart, Ga. during the week of Oct. 14, 2019 (U.S. Army photo)

Three soldiers were killed and another three injured when their Bradley Fighting Vehicle rolled over during a training exercise at Fort Stewart in Georgia on Sunday morning, Army officials announced.

Read More Show Less
U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper addresses reporters during a media briefing at the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, U.S., October 11, 2019. (Reuters/Erin Scott)

KABUL (Reuters) - U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper arrived in Afghanistan on Sunday in a bid to bring talks with the Taliban back on track after President Donald Trump abruptly broke off negotiations last month seeking to end the United States' longest war.

Esper's trip to Kabul comes amid questions about the United States' commitments to allies after a sudden withdrawal of U.S. troops from northeastern Syria and Trump's long-time desire to get out of foreign engagements.

Read More Show Less
Ummmmmm what? (Twitter)

Mark Esper is the third person after James Mattis and Patrick Shanahan to helm the Pentagon since Donald Trump became president, and he's apparently not making much of an impression on the commander-and-chief.

On Sunday, Trump sent a very real tweet on "Secretary Esperanto," which is either a reference to a constructed international language developed more than 130 years ago and only spoken on the PA system in Gattaca or an egregious instance of autocorrect.

Read More Show Less