Senators to ask US general about troop levels in Afghanistan

John Campbell
FILE - In this Dec. 28, 2014 file photo, Gen. John Campbell is seen in Kabul, Afghanistan. Afghan forces who reported being under Taliban fire requested the U.S. airstrike that killed 22 people at a medical clinic in northern Afghanistan over the weekend, the top commander of American and coalition forces in Afghanistan said Monday, correcting an initial U.S. statement that the strike had been launched because U.S. forces were threatened. The strike wasn't sought by Campbell said at a hastily arranged Pentagon news conference. (AP Photo/Massoud Hossaini, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan is facing questions on Capitol Hill about how many troops should stay in the still-volatile nation where the Taliban recently overran a northern city and a U.S. airstrike hit a medical clinic.

When he testifies Tuesday before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Gen. John F. Campbell will be asked whether he thinks President Barack Obama should alter his plan for reducing the U.S. troop presence after 2016 from its current level of about 9,800 to an embassy-based security operation of about 1,000.

Defense Secretary Ash Carter said Monday the Pentagon is providing options to the White House and Obama will be making decisions about future force levels later this fall.

Campbell is testifying three days after the airstrike on the medical clinic in the northern city of Kunduz killed at least 22 people and wounded dozens more. The clinic was operated by the medical charity Doctors Without Borders.

On Monday, Campbell told reporters at the Pentagon that the airstrike, which is being investigated, was requested by Afghan forces who reported being under Taliban fire. It’s unclear whether the clinic was targeted in error or whether U.S. military personnel followed procedure. They are required to verify that the target of a requested airstrike is valid before firing.

In response to Campbell’s remarks, the organization’s general director, Christopher Stokes, said the U.S. had admitted that it attacked the facility.

“The U.S. military remains responsible for the targets it hits, even though it is part of a coalition,” Stokes said. “There can be no justification for this horrible attack. With such constant discrepancies in the U.S. and Afghan accounts of what happened, the need for a full transparent independent investigation is ever more critical.”

Kunduz has been the scene of heavy fighting in recent days.

A Taliban assault on Kunduz took Afghan authorities by surprise and embarrassed President Ashraf Ghani’s administration. The Taliban, who attacked on multiple fronts, held the city for three days before a government counter-offensive began. Afghan forces have retaken Kunduz, an important city on the Tajikistan border, a hub for drug and gun smuggling to and from Central Asian countries.

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