WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump’s nominee for the top military officer of the United States says leaving Afghanistan prematurely would be a “strategic mistake,” as the U.S. and the Taliban are negotiating a potential peace settlement to end nearly two decades of war.

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“I think it is slow, it’s painful, it’s hard. I spent a lot of my life in Afghanistan, but I also think it’s necessary,” Army Gen. Mark Milley, the current Army Chief of Staff and nominee for Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told lawmakers at a Senate Armed Services Committee nomination hearing Thursday.

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Milley said he saw “progress” in the peace negotiations meant to bring the war to an end.

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A deal between the U.S. and the Taliban has been expected to be centered on a U.S. promise to withdraw foreign troops in exchange for a Taliban pledge not to let Afghanistan be used as a base for terrorism.

FILE – U.S. troops wait for their helicopter flight at an Afghan National Army (ANA) base in Logar province, Afghanistan, Aug. 7, 2018.

Milley on Iran

When questioned on Iran, Milley said Tehran’s “intensity of malign activity” has increased since the U.S. withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, (JCPOA) that was signed in 2015.

Milley also pointed out that Iran has “always been a malign actor,” and that Iranian-backed terrorist organizations have killed U.S. troops in Iraq.

His comments come as Britain said Thursday three Iranian vessels unsuccessfully tried to impede the passage of a British commercial vessel through the Strait of Hormuz but were turned away after “verbal warnings” from a British navy ship accompanying the vessel.

“We are concerned by this action and continue to urge the Iranian authorities to de-escalate the situation in the region,” the British government said.

Iran’s Revolutionary Guard has denied the allegations.

Iran and Iranian-backed forces have been blamed for several recent incidents in the region, including attacks on several tankers, attacks on a Saudi airport, an attack on a Saudi oil pipeline and a rocket attack in the Iraqi capital of Baghdad’s Green Zone.

President Trump said Wednesday he would soon “substantially” increase economic sanctions against Iran, as the U.S. accused Tehran of “nuclear extortion” by breaching the 2015 international pact aimed at curtailing its nuclear weapons development.

Iran has acknowledged it is now enriching uranium beyond the limits of the accord Trump withdrew from last year and keeping a bigger stockpile than it was allowed.

Despite the war in Afghanistan and the increased tensions with Iran, Milley said his biggest concern was “modernization and recapitalization of the nation’s nuclear triad.”

The nuclear triad is the U.S. military’s ability to respond to threats with nuclear weapons by air, sea and land via bombers, submarines and intercontinental ballistic missiles.

“There are many reasons why there hasn’t been a great-power war since 1945. Clearly one of them is nuclear deterrence,” Milley said, adding that the international order is “currently under the most stress since the end of the Cold War.”

 

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