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The Journal Gazette

  • Afghan people bury victims of Thursday's suicide attack on a Shiite cultural center in Kabul, Afghanistan, Friday, Dec. 29, 2017. An Islamic State suicide bomber has struck a Shiite cultural center in Kabul, killing dozens of people and underscoring the extremist group's growing reach in Afghanistan even as its self-styled caliphate in Iraq and Syria has been dismantled. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)

  • FILE - In this Aug. 30, 2016, file photo, U.S. Central Command Command Commander, Army Gen. Joseph Votel, speaks to reporters at the Pentagon. Votel wants a more aggressive Afghan military pressuring Taliban and other insurgents over the normally quieter months of Afghanistan's winter, and then quickly going on the offensive in the spring. It's all part of a plan the United States hopes will change the course of a war now entering its 17th year. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta, File)

Wednesday, January 03, 2018 1:00 am

More aggressive Afghan push sought

LOLITA C. BALDOR | Associated Press

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Service member killed in Afghanistan

A U.S. service member was killed and four others were wounded Monday during an operation in a part of Afghanistan in which U.S. forces have been combating both the Islamic State and the Taliban, U.S. military officials said Tuesday.

The fatality occurred in Nangahar province's Achin district, in a mountainous area along the border with Pakistan. The Islamic State in Khorasan, the militant group's Afghan affiliate, established roots there in 2014, and the U.S. military launched raids and airstrikes there in 2017 as it stepped up its campaign against the group.

U.S. military officials acknowledged the fatality Tuesday in a news release, saying that two of the wounded service members were receiving treatment at a nearby medical facility and were in stable condition. The other two wounded service members have returned to duty, the news release said.

– Washington Post

WASHINGTON – The top American commander for the Middle East wants a more aggressive Afghan military pressuring Taliban and other insurgents over the normally quieter months of Afghanistan's winter, and then quickly going on the offensive in the spring.

It is all part of a plan that the United States hopes will change the course of a war that is now entering its 17th year.

Gen. Joseph Votel of U.S. Central Command said an influx of new American trainers can help escalate the fight.

They'll be operating with Afghan units, closer to the front lines and at greater risk, but Votel said U.S. commanders will ensure American and allied forces have adequate protection.

The goal is to get the Afghan military moving on its military campaign sooner, rather than later.

The United States wants the “focus on offensive operations and we'll look for a major effort to gain the initiative very quickly as we enter into the fighting season,” Votel said in a recent interview with The Associated Press.

Afghan forces must “keep the pressure on all the time and work to gain the upper hand as quickly as we can. So that as we get into this next fighting season we can build on the initiative,” he said.

The Trump administration's Afghanistan strategy gives the U.S. military greater authority to launch offensive attacks against a resilient Taliban and an emerging Islamic State affiliate.

The plan, which was announced in August, was designed to reverse a stalemate in America's longest war.

It specifically eliminates the Obama administration's scheduled plan to withdraw U.S. forces from the region, but includes no dramatic changes in an approach that has failed to stabilize the country or snuff out extremist groups operating from Afghan territory.

As 2018 begins, Afghanistan appears to be high on President Donald Trump's agenda.

On New Year's Day, he slammed Afghanistan's neighbor Pakistan in a tweet for “lies & deceit,” accusing the country of playing U.S. leaders for “fools” by not crushing militants in its territory.

A major focus of Trump's Afghanistan strategy is to persuade Pakistan to eliminate havens for the Taliban and other fighters.

Pakistan summoned the U.S. ambassador and Islamic groups held rallies in major Pakistani cities in response.

“Pakistan has played a double game for years,” Nikki Haley, Trump's U.N. envoy, said Tuesday, explaining that Washington was withholding $255 million in aid to Islamabad. “They work with us at times and they also harbor the terrorists that attack our troops in Afghanistan. That game is not acceptable.”

Pakistan's Ambassador to the U.N. Maleeha Lodhi responded, “We have contributed and sacrificed the most in fighting international terrorism and carried out the largest counter terrorism operation anywhere in the world.”

Lodhi said the U.S. “should not shift the blame for their own mistakes and failures onto others. We can review our cooperation if it is not appreciated.”

On the Afghan side of the border, Washington is trying to build a tougher national military.

Votel said as the coalition builds up the Afghan Air Force and trains more security forces, the Afghans will become better fighters. “By the time they get to the next fight,” he said, “they will be able to really present a significant offensive capability.”