WASHINGTON — Afghanistan will always be a violent place but U.S., NATO and Afghan government efforts have lowered the frequency and impact of terrorism in what could be the terrorist capital of the world, the top U.S. commander said Wednesday.
“It’s been a long war,” Gen. John Nicholson told Pentagon reporters Wednesday. “It’s too soon to take the pressure off.”
Nicholson’s term as commander of Operation Resolute Support ends this year. He said the level of violence is down 30 percent overall from the metrics of the past five years. For the spring season, the traditional start of renewed warfare in Afghanistan, violence is down 10 to 12 percent, he said, citing figures provided by the Afghan government.
He said what is happening in Afghanistan now — talking and fighting — is de rigueur in many conflicts, as warring sides strive to maintain strength while seeking a peaceful resolution to a conflict. He cited the five-decade war in Colombia, between the government and FARC rebels, which ended after four years of peace talks that occurred as fighting still raged.
Nicholson said 80 percent of terrorists attacks have been rebuffed. For the five that temporarily succeed — the five make up the remaining 20 percent — all were retaken within hours, except for one that lasted 10 days.wq
Even the recent attack in Farah demonstrated how far Afghan forces have progressed, Nicholson said. He said Afghan forces held key areas of the city — such as the government building and the bank — and within 24 hours ground and air support arrived to drive the terrorists from the city.
After the Farah attack was repulsed, Nicholson said intelligence operatives were able to track some of the terrorist leaders to a meeting location, strike and kill many of them.
“This was not strategically significant but disruptive,” he said.
Likewise, he said an attempted ISIS attack Wednesday morning in Kabul was thwarted because of the training Afghan police and military now undergo.
In today’s incident, terrorists wearing out-of-date U.S. military uniforms and driving a captured Army vehicle were stopped by police outside the Ministry of Interior. “They did exactly what they are supposed to do,” Nicholson said of the Afghan security forces.
One Afghan security member was killed when a terrorist exploded a suicide vest, but the ministry building was not penetrated, he said.
Nicholson said two recent inspector general reports criticizing the lack of progress in Afghanistan refer to older programs that focused on stabilization. He said the current mission of training, advise and assist is much different in goals and methods.
“The military is no longer in that (stabilization) business,” Nicholson told reporters.
He said conditions in Afghanistan have improved in such areas as health care, women’s issues, clean water and vaccinations — increasing life expectancy from Afghans from 40 years to 60 years. That better lifestyle “reduces the potential” for terrorist recruitment, Nicholson said.
Nicholson said there are at least 21 separate terrorist groups in and around Afghanistan, making it the “largest concentration of terrorist groups in the world.
“This is Afghanistan,” Nicholson said. “There will always be violence.”