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Gen. Campbell Tells Senators White House's Afghan Plan May Change

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

The general who oversees U.S. forces in Afghanistan is preparing for a sobering reality. As he sees it, President Obama may not be able to withdraw the U.S. military presence before leaving office. That was the goal of a president who campaigned on ending U.S. wars abroad, including the one in Afghanistan. Now Gen. John Campbell says Afghans may need a continued American military presence to train them to fight the Taliban. NPR's Tom Bowman has more.

TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: President Obama last year announced that the 10,000 American troops in Afghanistan would drop to a small presence by the end of 2016, working out of the U.S. Embassy in Kabul like the military does in most countries. But Afghanistan isn't like most countries. The Taliban's gaining ground throughout the country, taking parts of Helmand province and most recently, seizing the northern city of Kunduz. So yesterday, Gen. Campbell told senators that White House plan may have to change.

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JOHN CAMPBELL: The different options that we've laid out through the chain of command provides our senior leadership with options above and beyond a normal embassy presence.

BOWMAN: Options above and beyond. Gen. Campbell wouldn't talk numbers, but Pentagon officials tell NPR they range from 3,000 to 5,000 or more troops in Afghanistan beyond 2016. There's talk of keeping three bases open - Bagram to the north, Kandahar to the south and Jalalabad to the east. Gen. Campbell said the Afghans have a fighting spirit and they have taken a high number of casualties. But they need more help building up an air force - an effort that could take three or more years - and a logistics system to provide food, spare parts and fuel to troops in the field.

The general said a small embassy presence would mean that training and assistance would take longer. Other U.S. troops are now going along with Afghan commandos tracking down al-Qaida and their allies. And with an embassy-only presence, said Campbell, the American partnership and that counterterror mission would all but disappear. Tom Bowman, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.