Gen. John Campbell (Thomas Brown/Staff)
- Filed Under
WASHINGTON — It’s not always what senior officials say. Oftentimes, it’s what they choose not to say. And, increasingly, the Taliban is a prime example.
For over a decade, senior Pentagon officials, but especially those in uniforms with stars on their shoulders, described the Taliban as International Enemy No. 1.
At briefings and breakfasts from here to Kabul, America’s top military officers publicly pleaded for “more time” to defeat the savage, terrorist-aligned Taliban.
According to reports and sources with knowledge of high-level meetings, they did the same in the Oval Office and Situation Room, often convincing two very different presidents to give them more time to defeat the Islamic extremist group that gave al-Qaida a safe haven to plan and orchestrate the 9/11 attacks.
But in recent months, a shift has occurred. As President Barack Obama has made increasingly clear he does not view the Taliban as a long-term US threat, some of the commander in chief’s top generals are changing their tune.
An example came near the end of an otherwise lackluster Senate Armed Services Committee nomination hearing for several senior US generals. One was Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. John Campbell, tapped to become the NATO and American commander in Afghanistan.
The revealing moment came during questioning from Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who asked Campbell whether he believes “the Pakistani Taliban want to reach America?”
There are several ways to answer the question. Based mostly on countless Afghanistan hearings and briefings since September 2001, one just might expect a US flag officer to simply reply, “Yes, sir.”
Campbell, interestingly, opted against giving Graham the answer he wanted.
“Sir, I believe there’s many organizations that want to do harm to the homeland,” the nominee said.
Graham tried again a moment later: “Yeah, and many of those organizations reside in the Afghan-Pakistan border regions. Is that correct?”
Campbell replied this way: “Sir, I would concur with that assessment.”
Notably, the general who soon will take over NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) not only never uttered the word “Taliban,” he chose to not directly call them a threat to the US homeland.
That’s a big change. ■