Army Lt. Gen. Austin “Scott” Miller faces a stark central question as he becomes the newest U.S. commander in Afghanistan this weekend: With local forces struggling and questions swirling about President Trump’s support for the war, how long will America persist?

Miller, a respected veteran of some of the U.S. military’s most secretive combat units, takes the reins at a time of intense skepticism about what can be accomplished in a 17-year-old war. His mission to bring the United States’ longest war to a close is made more difficult by political upheaval in Kabul and Trump’s ambivalence about costly foreign wars.

Miller will be the first commander whose mission is as much diplomatic as military, as the Taliban’s resilience fuels a new drive to secure a peace deal allowing for a dignified U.S. drawdown.

“Throughout the ups and downs of this conflict, it’s become evident that the United States is not going to defeat the Taliban insurgency, even though it can prevent a Taliban victory,” said Laurel Miller, a former senior official who is now at the Rand Corp.

The 57-year-old general steps out of the shadowy Special Operations world Sunday to take over from Gen. John Nicholson Jr.

Miller’s most recent assignment was as the commander of Joint Special Operations Command, which oversees elite forces that include SEAL Team 6, Delta Force and the Army’s 75th Ranger Regiment. He has deep experience in Afghanistan, including a stint heading Special Operations forces there from 2013 to 2014.

The war in Afghanistan is at a delicate point. The Taliban still controls about 14 percent of the country’s 407 districts and contests an additional 30 percent, according to a recent report from a government watchdog.

The fragility of the Afghan government’s grip was highlighted most recently by a powerful militant assault on Ghazni, a provincial capital, that took U.S. and Afghan reinforcements to shake loose.

Unlike earlier years when U.S. troops spearheaded combat operations, the role of U.S. ground forces is now primarily aimed at enabling local troops, making their performance a central metric for U.S. success.

Miller has said the strategy Trump adopted a year ago, which provided for a modest increase in troop levels and greater leeway for U.S. forces to conduct air attacks, appears to be working. But he has avoided the kind of pronouncements about military progress other generals have made that have failed to stand up over time.


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