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Trump’s choice to lead Afghan war, former Delta Force commander, to testify in Congress

Maj. Gen. Austin S. Miller, Maneuver Center of Excellence commanding general, delivers remarks during the Master Sgt. Jared Van Aalst Boulevard road dedication ceremony at Martin Army Community Hospital, April 17, 2015. (U.S. Army Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Michael R. Noggle, 75th Ranger Regiment Public Affairs NCOIC)
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Army Lt. Gen. Austin “Scott” Miller will step out of the shadows of running the military’s most secretive units next week to make his case to take the reins of America’s longest war.

Miller, who has commanded the Joint Special Operations Command at Fort Bragg in North Carolina for the last two years, will appear before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday for a hearing to consider his nomination by President Donald Trump to command U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan.

If confirmed, Miller would become the ninth top commander of the war, taking over for Army Gen. John Nicholson likely sometime in August or September, according to defense officials.

Defense officials indicated Miller’s selection could likely signal a more aggressive approach to the war in Afghanistan. Miller was at the helm of the Army’s most elite unit Delta Force beginning in 2005 when the commando force – whose existence is not officially recognized by the military – greatly increased its aggressiveness in the war in Iraq, largely in volatile Anbar Province, which includes key cities Ramadi and Fallujah.

Nicholson has commanded U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan since March 2016, initially under former President Barack Obama. He has overseen Trump’s new strategy for the war implemented last summer, which included an influx of thousands of American troops and a steady increase in the United States’ bombing campaign against the Taliban and terrorist groups including al-Qaida and the Islamic State.

Despite the strategy shift, which Nicholson has said is designed to force the Taliban to the negotiating table, government watchdog organizations have said the United States and the Afghan government it backs have made little progress. On Jan. 31, the government controlled or influenced about 56 percent of the country’s 407 districts, while the Taliban controlled or influenced about 15 percent of the districts, according to the most recent estimates made public by the Special Investigator General for Afghanistan Reconstruction. The remaining districts was contested, according to the organization.

But the war has made headlines in recent months as Taliban and ISIS attacks have rocked major population centers, including repeated suicide bombings in Kabul, the country’s capital.

Government forces and the Taliban agreed to a three-day ceasefire, which began Friday to honor Eid al-Fitr, the Islamic holiday marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan.

However, chances of further curtailing violence between the two sides appeared slim, as the Taliban has demanded direct talks with the United States before it would negotiate with the Afghan central government.

If confirmed, Miller would take command of some 14,000 American troops and another about 6,500 forces from NATO partner countries. He would take over the war effort just before long-delayed parliamentary elections in Afghanistan are scheduled to occur in October.

Miller, 57, is a 1983 West Point graduate and an infantry officer by trade. He’s served in the 82nd Airborne Division, the 2nd Infantry Division and the 75th Ranger Regiment.

As a captain in 1993, Miller led a Delta Force ground unit in Somalia during the infamous Battle of Mogadishu, which was depicted in Mark Bowden’s bestselling book “Black Hawk Down.” Miller was awarded a Bronze Star with “V” device for valor for his actions in that brutal, daylong battle. Miller later commanded Delta Force.

In addition to his time in Somalia, Miller has served in Iraq, Bosnia, Latin America and Afghanistan, according to the Army.

His most recent assignment in Afghanistan was leading NATO’s Special Operation Component Command there from June 2013 to June 2014. He also served as a training adviser in 2010, and was among the first American commandos to serve in Afghanistan in 2001, following the 9/11 terrorist attacks that ignited the war.

As commander of JSOC, Miller has overseen the military’s most elite commandos, including the Army’s Delta Force and the Navy’s Special Warfare Development Group, better known as DEVGRU or SEAL Team Six.

In addition to the Bronze Star with “V” device, he was awarded for his actions in Mogadishu, Miller’s awards and decorations include two combat infantryman badges, two additional Bronze Stars and two Purple Heart medals.

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© 2018 the Stars and Stripes

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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