WASHINGTON – The dual-hatted top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan praised President Donald Trump’s newly announced South Asia strategy Thursday, saying that the open-ended military commitment will force the Taliban insurgents to negotiate.
“This has been the 16 years, but the 20 years before that,” said Gen. John Nicholson, acknowledging that before the U.S. invasion in 2001, Afghanistan was racked by the war with the Soviets and then civil conflict.
“We see and understand and support the desire of the Afghan people for peace … What you heard from President Trump was a commitment that is not based on time, but is based on conditions on the ground. And you heard the president say that, ultimately, we want to see a peaceful settlement here in Afghanistan.”
Nicholson made the comments during a news conference in Kabul with the acting U.S. ambassador, Hugo Llorens.
Both men stressed the importance of improving Afghan institutions, reducing corruption and an approach to the conflict that takes other regional actors into consideration, including Pakistan.
“The external enablement of these terrorists is one of the reasons that they’re able to survive,” said Nicholson, adding that dialogue with Pakistan has already started and will be conducted in private.
He said that over the coming months, the U.S. and other NATO allies will increase their train, advise and assist efforts and increase air support for the Afghan security forces.
Nicholson declined to say how many additional U.S. troops might be deployed, stating that he does not want to signal to the enemy how the battlefield might change. He said some new assets are already arriving.
Nicholson applauded the growth of the Afghan Special Operations Command from a division to a corps, and President Ashraf Ghani’s commitment to doubling its size from 17,000 troops. The Afghan special forces currently conduct about 70 percent of the country’s offensive operations.
In addition to fighting the Taliban, Nicholson said the U.S. would continue to beat back remnants of al-Qaeda and the regional ISIS affiliate, known as ISIS-Khorasan Province (ISIS-K).
“Our focus has been on the steady annihilation of the enclave they have in southern Nangarhar, and we are doing that,” said Nicholson.
U.S. and Afghan forces have killed some 2,000 ISIS-K members, he said, and pushed them into the mountains in southern Nangarhar where they can no longer exert control over the civilian population.