US commander in Afghan: Ceasefire supported but forces remain ready

US commander in Afghan: Ceasefire supported but forces remain ready

Gen. John Nicholson (center), Resolute Support Mission and U.S. Forces-Afghanistan commander, speaks with Mohammed Masoom Stanekzai, Director of the National Security Directorate, during a visit to the Train, Advise and Assist Command-South (TAAC-S) region, May 14, 2018. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Sharida Jackson)

WASHINGTON — The Pentagon supports the temporary Afghanistan ceasefire proposal made by Afghan leaders, in part as a way to further move forward a fledgling peace process.

“The potential benefit of a ceasefire is greater than the potential risk,” Gen. John Nicholson, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, told reporters Friday. “We can mitigate the risk. Through our intelligence means we can continue to watch the enemy and what they’re doing. And we will. And if they violate the ceasefire we can respond.”

A week-long cease-fire proposal with the Taliban announced by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on Thursday. The ceasefire is to coincide with Eid al-Fitr, the Muslim holiday that signifies the end of the holy month of Ramadan next week; it would start on Tuesday and end June 19.

The Taliban did not immediately respond to the offer. The ceasefire does not apply to ISIS, al-Qaeda or any other terrorist group now battling NATO and the Afghan government.

Nicholson told reporters that NATO troops are “well-postured to deal with anything that happens in terms of a ceasefire violation.” He said forces will continue to maintain pressure on groups other than the Taliban.

“We’ll act in self-defense of Coalition and Afghan forces. This means that we will be watching and prepared to respond to any threat that occurs or appears imminent to affect our forces,” Nicholson told reporters. “So, we’re going to take all of the requisite steps to defend ourselves and to defend our Afghan allies if somebody chooses not to be a party to this and take advantage of it.”

Nicholson spoke to reporters who are traveling with Defense Secretary James Mattis on a trip to a NATO meeting in Brussel.

Nicholson told reporters that NATO and Afghan forces are in the middle of a new offensive against ISIS in Nangarhar province called Operation Hamza III.

“This is steadily reducing their territory in southern Nangarhar. It’s a ground operation. It’s led by Afghan commandos who are supported by U.S. Special Forces and U.S. and Afghan air power,” Nicholson said. “These will continue, in fact, will even be intensified during this period of ceasefire.”

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