WASHINGTON — President Trump plans to nominate a top special operations commander to be the next top military official of all coalition forces in Afghanistan, the Pentagon confirmed on Wednesday.
Lt. Gen. Austin Scott Miller will command Joint Special Operations Command, Joint Special Operations Command Forward, U.S. Special Operations Command, Fort Bragg, N.C. He will replace Gen. John Nicholson, who is scheduled to brief Pentagon reporters today from his headquarters in Kabul.
Nicholson’s last briefing was marked by a strong upbeat assessment of progress against the Taliban and ISIS when he suggested the war had “turned a corner” and was on the road to success. In subsequent months the effort in the 16-year war has been questioned with the lack of success from a historic winter offensive launched by the U.S. and coalition forces and two independent inspector general reports that said progress has been minimal at best.
The U.S. military had roughly 14,000 troops and 6,400 NATO troops in Afghanistan at the end of 2017. The Obama administration said it had about 8,400 troops there in 2016.
The two reports became public just as spring reached Afghanistan, signaling the start of renewed strikes by the Taliban, ISIS and other terrorist elements.
Last week by Lt. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, director of the Joint Staff, disputed that there has not been progress.
“The (inspector general) report also noted there were some significant momentum shifts in favor of the Afghan government. So I think it’s a mixed report. I think we’re still pretty early in the fighting season this year, and I think there’s a lot of fighting left to be done,” McKenzie told reporters.
McKenzie said there are metrics to gauge success that were not mentioned in the report that are reflected in his analysis but decline to share them on Thursday. “I’d rather wait and do that a little bit later, not do that right now,” he said. “l’ll try to wait before I give a final characterization until we’re a little further along in the year.”
To take the command position, Miller — who goes by the name of Scott — must be a four-star general. Thus, his nomination to take the command includes a nomination for a fourth star; both must be approved by the Senate.
Miller, 57, commands the Joint Special Operations Command, which runs the military’s most sensitive commando missions. He served as head of the special operations contingent in Afghanistan from 2013 to 2014. He also served combat tours in Iraq and Somalia.
He was a Delta Force captain in the “Black Hawk Down” battle of Mogadishu. He will become the ninth U.S. commander in Afghanistan. A 1983 West Point graduate from Hawaii, Miller’s awards include the Distinguished Service Medal, the Defense Superior Service Medal, the Legion of Merit, the Bronze Star with combat ‘V’ device, and the Purple Heart, the Pentagon said.