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US general for NATO: Afghan violence will rise before vote

September 13, 2019
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Afghan special forces stand guard at the site of a suicide car bomb explosion that killed at least four people, on the outskirts of Kabul, Afghanistan, Thursday, Sept. 12, 2019. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid has claimed responsibility for the bombing in a statement sent to the media. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)
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Afghan special forces stand guard at the site of a suicide car bomb explosion that killed at least four people, on the outskirts of Kabul, Afghanistan, Thursday, Sept. 12, 2019. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid has claimed responsibility for the bombing in a statement sent to the media. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)

LJUBLJANA, Slovenia (AP) — The top U.S. general for NATO said Friday that he expects increased violence in Afghanistan in the lead-up to the election later this month, adding that allies will make necessary adjustments to military operations there to protect the vote.

Air Force Gen. Tod Wolters, the Supreme Allied Commander, told a small group of reporters that despite recent drama over Afghanistan, the U.S. message to allies is that America and NATO remain committed to the fight. Peace talks between the U.S. and the Taliban collapsed late last week and were declared dead by President Donald Trump after a spate of deadly attacks by the insurgents.

“At this very moment the signal that we send to our NATO partners is that the U.S. is committed, NATO is committed, and the mission still remains,” said Wolters, who is in Ljubljana for a meeting of allied chiefs of defense, including Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Right now, Wolters added, “there are no discussions” with allies about any troop withdrawal from Afghanistan. Trump has said the U.S. would cut troop levels from about 14,000 to about 8,600, but talk of any pullout has been muted since Trump called off the peace talks and canceled a meeting he said he wanted to have with Afghan government leaders and the Taliban at the Camp David presidential retreat.

Presidential envoy Zalmay Khalilzad has been leading U.S. peace talks with the Taliban and had recently appeared to be close to a deal to end America’s longest war and trigger talks between the militant Islamist group and Afghans inside and outside the government. Trump’s abrupt decision to end the talks fueled worries about escalating violence and prompted Taliban threats to disrupt the upcoming election.

Wolters didn’t provide details about any potential uptick in U.S. military operations. He said the allies will do all they can to help Afghan security forces ensure a safe and secure presidential election on Sept. 28.

“We anticipate increased violence,” said Wolters, adding that planners will adjust “the stance and speed” of all the soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines in the country to secure the voting. He said the election “probably won’t be perfect,” but allied troops will support Afghan forces as they work to keep voters safe.

Trump, however, has already signaled an increase in offensive operations, saying Monday that “we’ve hit the Taliban harder in the last four days than they’ve been hit in over 10 years.”

U.S. officials have so far declined to detail how much the U.S. offensive has increased or how many more airstrikes the U.S., allies and Afghans have been conducting.

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