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Resolute Support Press Briefing by U.S. Army Gen. Joseph Votel, U.S. Central Command, and U.S. Army Gen. John Nicholson, Resolute Support and U.S. Forces-Afghanistan Commander

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General Joseph Votel
July 23, 2018
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Resolute Support Press Briefing by U.S. Army Gen. Joseph Votel, U.S. Central Command, and U.S. Army Gen. John Nicholson, Resolute Support and U.S. Forces-Afghanistan Commander

KABUL, Afghanistan -- July 23, 2018

 

Lt. Col. O’Donnell: Ladies and gentlemen it is my pleasure to introduce Gen. John Nicholson, Resolute Support and U.S. Forces-Afghanistan commander, and Gen. Joseph Votel, the commander of the U.S. Central Command.

Gen. Nicholson: Thanks Marty I want to welcome everyone here and thank you for joining us today. It is an honor for us to have General Votel the U.S. Central Command Commander with us here today we’ve had a productive day of visiting with the security ministers and members of the government and we look forward to your questions after giving General Votel a chance to provide some opening comments. Sir,

Gen. Votel: Thanks.  Thank you I appreciate it and for all of you we are very very glad to be back in Afghanistan. Let me just make a couple comments and then we’ll be happy to answer any questions that you have. First off, I’m here, well I’m here to tell you that I think our efforts here in Afghanistan are showing progress. It is important for me to highlight that there is much work left to be done and there is a lot of fighting that remains. The Afghani Security Forces are improving, but they do require the time and support to contend with both Taliban and Islamic State fighters that are in the country. They are fighting and they are taking casualties but they are also very offensive-minded and inflicting losses on the Taliban and the ISIS enemy daily, while expanding their own capabilities and proficiencies every day.

There is cause for cautious optimism and evidence that our South Asia strategy is working. The most dramatic evidence of this was manifested recently when our conditions-based approach allowed President Ghani and the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces to set the conditions for the first-ever nationwide cease-fire. Although the cease-fire was temporary, all parties respected the terms and there were very few reported breaches.

The ceasefire demonstrated the increased desire for peace, not only from the Afghan people, but from the belligerents of the conflict, as well. We saw numerous instances of this during the ceasefire, and we have seen many since its conclusion, even in the midst of ongoing combat operations. Our campaign approach of military pressure provided the time and space for diplomatic and social pressure to pursue this opportunity.

There are examples of other ongoing military pressure including increased kinetic strikes in support of the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces, targeting of Taliban revenue-generation mechanisms, and making great progress in expanding our train, advise and assist mission.

All six of Afghan national army corps have been frequently engaged in offensive operations simultaneously, and at one point this spring, they were conducting offensive operations in 13 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces at the same time. This is a testament to the great work by not only our forces, but also others in the NATO-led coalition.

The Afghan National Defense and Security Forces are orchestrating unprecedented reorganization this year, moving over 30,000 border police and Afghan National Civil Order Police from the Ministry of the Interior to the Ministry of Defense, and initiating a territorial army project for long-term local security.

Through implementation of the Inherent Law, they are replacing older leadership with a new generation of Afghan officers and commanders, whose principal experience is driven by the relationship with the United States and other coalition forces, and in association with our modern military education training models and practices.

And despite the security challenges, the Afghans persist in registering nearly 9 million people for the upcoming parliamentary elections, about 70 percent of eligible voters.

Since the Afghans took the lead for their own security in August of 2014, we have seen strong continued international support for the Resolute Support mission. This year, 29 of 39 NATO Allies and partners increased their military or financial commitments to the campaign. Significantly, we welcome our Gulf partners from the United Arab Emirates and Qatar to the Resolute Support mission as well.

At the recent NATO summit, international partners agreed to extend funding to the Afghan Security Forces through 2024. This is noteworthy and will provide us both time and resources to fulfill the intent of our South Asia Strategy.

And while this is a conditions-based approach, we and our Afghan partners are moving forward with a sense of urgency and purpose to ensure that we don’t miss the opportunities that are being afforded by this continued support from the international community, or that have been created on the ground through activities like the recent ceasefire.

This is a South Asia strategy, and cooperation from Pakistan remains key to accomplishing the overall objective of a durable political settlement in Afghanistan. We continue to work closely with Pakistan to help them fulfill the important role that they have indicated they want to play. Now is the time for them to step forward and be supportive.

Overall, Resolute Support has observed remarkable changed in the environment, largely driven by our new strategy. The Afghan people and many Taliban grow more ready for peace, as evidenced by peace marches, local and international religious Ulema condemnations of the insurgency, broad diplomatic support to the Afghan-owned peace process and, of course, the cease-fire that I mentioned earlier.

So, as I said earlier, I believe there is a reason to be cautiously optimistic, and I have seen it first hand in the first 24 hours I have spent in Afghanistan during this visit, and with that I think we are ready to go ahead and take your questions.

 

Habib Khan Totakhill, Wall Street Journal: My question is about talks, current talks with the Taliban, does the U.S. government have plans to talk to the Taliban. Have you contacted them and when you talked about the South Asia strategy you mentioned we have had some progresses with the government. What are those progresses apart from the ceasefire because the Taliban are getting more territories and they’re still challenging the government control in urban centers and provinces, and they control up to 40% of the constituency?

Gen. Nicholson: Well this remains an Afghan-led process and as you know, but the U.S. has said we are ready to support and participate in talks with the Afghan government and Taliban to advance the peace process. This, Ok, yeah. So with respect to specific negotiations, of course you can talk to the State Department, but with this in general is the philosophy the United States has. We are going to work with Afghanistan, and we are willing to support and participate in these peace talks with the Taliban, but with respect to the way forward we have seen a number of changes this year based upon the South Asia strategy.

It is important to note that within six months of President Trump’s announcement of the South Asia Strategy we had essentially two peace offers on the table, President Ghani’s unconditional peace offer that he made and was endorsed unanimously by the international community, and secondly we had an open letter by the Taliban to the people of America. In this letter they outlined the basic elements of a negotiation position. So, when you put these two positions side-by-side you now have a starting point for a negotiation.

Within ten months of the announcement of President Trump’s South Asia strategy we had the first ever ceasefire in this seventeen-year war, and you could even go back further, unfortunately, to the forty years of war that the Afghan people have endured. What this unleashed is the genuine desire of the Afghan people for peace.

It is very clear what the Afghan people want. I want to also highlight the important role that peace activists, civil society and women peace activists have played in the desire for peace so there is an unquestioned demand by the Afghan people for peace. And of course the United States and the entire NATO-led coalition support that and are ready to help move it forward. Thank you.

 

Hamid Haideri, 1TV: Thank you so much and first welcome to Afghanistan and my question for you, yesterday in the press there was some information about talks between the U.S. and Taliban and that they had met the Taliban in Doha and the UAE. Did you confirm that Sir? And the second question is the Taliban have made the demand of the withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan. If you can meet with the Taliban how you do answer this for the Taliban?

Gen. Votel: Well I think, as Gen. Nicholson just said you know our role here is to be as supportive as we can be to the Afghan-led, Afghan-owned peace process. So we are going to do everything we can to support that process. With respect to anything that might be going on right now, I would defer you to the Department of State that is a diplomatic matter, and they are the experts to talk about that.

As you know, as President Ghani has indicated in his very generous offer this year that he is ready to pursue something without conditions. So I think that kind of speaks for itself. You know everything can be on the table here, as we move forward with this Afghan-led process.

Javed Ahmad Kaker, PAJHWOK AFGHAN NEWS: Gen. Votel, Sir, you talked about Pakistan and their role in Afghan-peace. Are you satisfied with what Pakistan is doing or are you asking for more?

Gen. Votel: I think we need Pakistan to do more. There have been some positive indications and some things that Pakistan has done, but what we really need, is we really need Pakistan to make a commitment to helping to lower the violence here in Afghanistan and to be as helpful as they can be in encouraging the Taliban to pursue these peace opportunities that are before us right now. And that’s where we really need the help at this particular time. Pakistan has said, has told me that they are very keen to play a role in this so now is the time for them to play this role.

Fatima Faiza, NEW YORK TIMES: My question is for Gen. Nicholson your wife and her co-author are writing a book about U.S commander in Afghanistan. I want to ask you that INAUDIBLE…

Gen. Nicholson: Can you repeat the last part of the question?

Fatima Faiza, NEW YORK TIMES: David Loyn and your wife are writing a book on U.S. commanders in Afghanistan and David Lloyn was hired by ISAF. What do you think? Isn’t that corruption?

Gen. Nicholson: No. I don’t believe so. Uh, the project that you are referring to is no longer going on. Corruption is very important and is a central part of what we do. With respect to corruption in the military and the security services it is extremely important and we are working on counter-corruption measures in the area of pay, in the area of fuel corruption. These areas are central to what we are doing and without defeating corruption we are not going to be able to move forward credibly. Thank you.

Rahim Gul Sarwan, VOICE OF AMERICA: General, I have one follow up question. There was a meeting yesterday between Afghanistan and Pakistan that was an action plan to finalize it and take some practical steps toward the…inaudible...between the two countries. How do you see that meeting and that initiative? And second question about the ISIS, yesterday there was an attack on the Gen. Dostum return convoy, how do you see ISIS right now? Are they increasing their attacking in the cities and their suicide attacks?

Gen. Votel: Yes thank you. First off on the Afghan Pakistan action plan for peace and stability – APAPPS – we are very pleased with the cooperation taking place between both Pakistan and Afghanistan on this, and I think this demonstrates how important it is for these two countries to have a dialogue and have a mechanism through which they can talk and cooperate.

And so, I think that the APAPPS has been a very positive development here.  If you just look at the reduction in tension along the border I think it is very evident that this discussion has helped reduce the tensions just in that area so I think this provides a great platform for us to move forward on that.

We encourage both Afghanistan and Pakistan to do that, and we hope to be in a position where we can really reinforce that. 

I think the second part of your question was about ISIS and their attacks here.  I am aware, I think ISIS has claimed the attack yesterday.  ISIS is not a popular insurgency here.  They are vicious killers.  They are conducting attacks without respect to trying to protect the Afghan people, or without any concern of civilian casualties, so I think that this highlights what this organization is about.  They have very little to offer the country of Afghanistan or anybody else in the region so I think they have to be eliminated and they have to be addresses as quickly and effectively as we can with them.  So, I think they’re trying to do everything they can to disrupt the initiatives that are ongoing here and I think the coalition forces working with the Afghan forces have got to stay focused on preventing them from doing that.

Shabeer Ahmadi, TOLO: Gen Votel, Russia and Iran are concerned about ISIS, and there are reports that ISIS militants are coming to Afghanistan from Iraq and Syria. Is it true? General Nicholson, we would like to have your opinion about the return of General Dostum from so called “exile.”

Gen. Votel: Well, first off, with respect to ISIS coming from Iraq and Syria, that may be possible, but frankly we haven’t seen a big movement of ISIS fighters from that location to Afghanistan.  In fact, our strategy in Iraq and Syria has been to isolate them and fight them there. Kill or capture them there in Iraq or Syria so they can’t get out. That’s been the focus of our campaign so far.

Gen. Nicholson: With respect to first Vice President Dostum returning, from a security perspective, we hope this leads to greater stability in the northwest part of the country.  With respect to the other dimensions, that’s a matter for the Afghan government. And of course, we, in the United States, respect the rule of law. It is extremely important in all that we do here.

Rod Nordland, NEW YORK TIMES: General, can you give us an idea on what the trend line has been in casualties among the Afghan Security Force?  We all have the sense that it has been increasing greatly, I just wondered what the metrics actually are.

Gen. Nicholson: Well we saw, to put this in context, what we saw. We track casualties over the course of the years and what we saw at the end of the ISAF mission is that casualties go up as the Afghan Army took on the entire fight themselves. And casualties were at a pretty high level over 2015, 2016, into 2017.

Interestingly, as President Trump’s South Asia Policy was announced we saw a dip in levels of violence, which was interesting, it seemed to be linked to diplomatic activity.  Through the end of April, levels of violence were lower as the diplomatic activity played out. At the end of April when the Taliban announced their offensive, then we saw levels of violence go up, and generally speaking, casualties have tracked with the level of violence. 

So as we went into the cease fire, of course we saw the level of violence come down, casualties go down.  Since the end of the ceasefire, fighting has resumed, casualties have gone backup.  So we see linkages between casualties and levels of violence, an obvious linkage.  We see levels of violence linked to diplomatic activity.  So there are some correlations there, but what has been interesting to note is the relationship between levels of violence since President Trump’s South Asia Strategy. 

Now, we would hope in the future to see the levels of violence come down.  I think President Ghani has made the offer to continue the ceasefire.  He made this previously when speaking to peace activists and so forth.  When there is no cease fire, the Afghan Security Forces are engaged in difficult fighting against the enemy around the country.  Right now they are exercising in the southern part of the country in Operation Talon, but they’re also fighting in six major provinces around the country, and we’re seeing heavy casualties on both sides as the security forces push back the Taliban in some of these areas they traditionally control.

Dion Nissenbaum, WALL STREET JOURNAL: When you look at the traditional metrics here for where things are going the trend lines are pretty negative especially on control of terrain. I think only in enemy initiated attacks can you see some positive signs. When you look at the trends what gives you optimism that is headed in the right way? And do you feel like you are on track to meet the deadlines that you want to meet for getting the stability here that you want?

Gen. Nicholson: So the population security has remained about the same, about two-thirds of the population. We are seeing some slight gains. We have seen fourteen districts we’ve seen the population security improve, in about eight districts that’s declined. So again, roughly the same as the past. The difference we are seeing however, as I just outlined the levels of violence in relation to diplomatic activity. The advancement towards the reconciliations goal of President Trump’s strategy, I’ve seen progress in the last year that I haven’t seen in the previous seventeen years and that is significant.  

I think that’s the reason that we have now come to a conditions based strategy and we are no longer on a timeline for withdrawal. Up until last August, the United States was on a stated timeline for withdrawal, so therefore there was no incentive for belligerents to negotiate. As soon as that changed and President Trump announced that we were here on a conditions basis. I should note that comes on top of NATO’s commitment to be here on a conditions basis. This does affect the [underlying] calculus.  I think this one of the reasons why you are seeing a willingness to participate in the peace process that we did not see before.

So I say that some of these traditional metrics like levels of violence and population, while still relevant and important, should not outweigh the importance of advancing the peace process. So the fact that we have these two offers within six months, we had the first ever ceasefire, two unilateral ceasefires occurring simultaneously, and now the fact that the entire international community, religious Ulemas and population Ulemas all have responded in favor of peace. These things were made possible by the fact that we have this new strategy and we have this new conditions-based approach. These were not the metrics you were talking about a year ago, but I think these metrics are in terms of are we going to obtain the objectives? Again our objectives are they’ll bring peace to Afghanistan and the region, and that the belief is that in so doing, we are going to be able to reduce levels of violence, which is going to make it harder for terrorists to operate from here and threaten our homeland and those of our allies. So I believe this advancement towards peace is extremely relevant and, in a way, is perhaps more important than some of these other measures that we traditionally use.

Robert James Mackenzie, REUTERS: There have been reports recently that you have been looking at the strategy, I think you spoke about it today Gen. Votel, and to see if anything needs changing. …INAUDIBLE…Would it be more in the nature of adjustment rather than change?

Gen. Votel: I think it definitely fits in the description of what you just said here, of adjustments and making sure we know the path we are on, where we are making progress, where we are not making progress at the rates we want to.

So I look at this very much as an assessment, not a review or a reconsideration of the strategy. I think the overall strategy that has been laid out here is one that is working. I know in our discussions with the Afghan leadership this morning, they certainly believe it is a strategy that is working and I do as well. I think that what we are going to do is look at where we are making progress, where we are not making satisfactory progress in areas and then where we need to make adjustments to keep this moving forward in accordance with the overall plan.

 

Allison Jackson, AFP: Gen. Nicholson, in regards to the so called progress that has been made since President Trump’s strategy, I’m just wondering were you surprised then to see the record highs of the deaths in the first half of this year?

Gen Nicholson: In terms of the?

Allison Jackson, AFP: Well, you talk about progress, but I’m just wondering in terms of actual civilian casualties and civilian deaths, it’s at a record high and civilian casualties remain at record highs.

Gen Nicholson: As you know, the majority of the civilian casualties unfortunately are caused by the insurgents and so what we’ve seen early in the year were some indiscriminate examples of the Taliban use of vehicle borne IEDs for example.  They took an ambulance packed with explosives and detonated it next to a hospital.  So this is one of the contributing factors to civilian casualties. We saw Taliban suicide bombers attack a wrestling match in Helmand.  Again, inflicting casualties among innocent civilians.  This was a contributing factor to the peace march that occurred from Lashkargah to Kabul. 

We’ve also seen an increase in indiscriminate attacks by ISIS.  So I think those give me the greatest concern, the attacks by ISIS.  I think it is a new factor whereas the Taliban use of high profile attacks has actually declined since the incidents that I mentioned.  We’ve seen the ISIS use of high-profile attacks increase.  So I think this is why we are going fully at ISIS in southern Nangarhar, in areas of Kunar and Jawzjan as well with strikes.  As you’re aware, we killed the leader of ISIS in Jawzjan a few months ago and as you saw recently, many of you covered this story, we took you down to southern Nangarhar so you can see where Afghan commandos and U.S. Special Forces took the ISIS capital in Gorgory Valley in southern Nangarhar. 

So we are very concerned about ISIS and we are going fully at ISIS and we also note that the Taliban is fighting ISIS and we encourage that because ISIS needs to be destroyed.  There is no place for them in the future of Afghanistan.

Andrew Quilty, HARPER’S MAGAZINE: General Nicholson, I imagine by this point in your tenure here you would have proposed to have said that the threat of ISIS in southern Nangarhar declined more than it has, can you explain why that may not have occurred?

Gen. Nicholson: So ISIS has proven to have a degree of resiliency in southern Nangarhar, but as we’re looking two years ago, their ambition was to take over all of Nangarhar with Jalalabad as the capital of their caliphate.  They’ve been frustrated in that, we’ve steadily reduced their territory over the last two years and retreated their fighters.  They have been able to recruit new fighters.  Primarily fighters from other organizations like the Turkey Taliban Pakistan Uzbekistan and Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. 

Because of the successful efforts by Central Command against ISIS main in Syria, we saw a reduction in the amount of funding and guidance that they received in Syria.  This also has affected them, but they have a very strong appeal in their media operations and their appeal to young people.  So they are able to recruit some young, impressionable Afghans to their numbers.  But again, the majority of these fighters are not from Afghanistan. 

While we realize it’s going to be a tough fight against them, we’re seeing strong performance by the Afghan Special Forces.  Again, if you look at Mohmand Valley, Deh Bala, Achin, Kot Province, all of these areas.  The Afghan Commandos have steadily reduced their territory.  It has been tough fighting, and we find these areas seeded with extensive numbers of IEDs, but at the same time they have retaken these areas.  We’re seeing more forces taken by the Afghan Army to hold these areas

I believe you’ve had a chance to talk to some of the civilians who have had an opportunity to return to their homes down there and they’re extremely grateful.  What you hear from them is, of course, nothing but hatred for ISIS after the vicious way in which they’ve murdered families and murdered innocents.  So there’s no home for ISIS in Afghanistan.  The people reject them.  They are tough fighters and they’ll be steadily reduced and we’re going to continue to fight until it is complete.

Salma Sakhi, ZAN TV: In news conference at the end of the …INAUDIBLE… you mentioned General Nicholson that the …INAUDIBLE… was planned in 1997 and the major issues with talking with the Taliban and the others …INAUDIBLE… Afghan Security Forces so how …INAUDIBLE… back of this plan have been …INAUDIBLE… Unfortunately, we see that in this year that the severity of the security and the casualties have increased so …INAUDIBLE… How much do you think you’re satisfied in this plan for implementing of this plan? …INAUDIBLE…

Gen. Nicholson: It’s been a tough fight since the end of the ISAF mission in 2014.  In early 2015, the entire responsibility for this fight went to the Afghan Security Forces.  Remembering that any opponent that enjoys outside sanctuary is very difficult to defeat. We’ve seen a couple trends occur since 2016.

One is, increasing use of external haven on the part of the Taliban. So in this regard, we’ve seen, in addition to sanctuaries in Pakistan, we’ve seen sanctuaries across the border to the west and some support from the north as well. This is obviously cause for concern. In the meantime, we have increased the size of the Commandos.  We continue to double those forces.  They haven’t been completely fielded yet because these forces are extremely high quality and it takes a couple of years to do that. 

We are also increasing the size of the Afghan Air Force.  Again, this will take a couple of years for this to fully play out because training pilots and training mechanics and training an army to use an air force takes some time. And so we are in the process of doing that.  What’s very encouraging to me though is that I think this plan is fundamentally sound, where we’ve seen the Afghan Commandos and the Afghan Air Force operate, they have been very effective.

I’ll use as an example, the response to the enemy attacks in Farah earlier this year, just a few months ago. In 2016, it took days to get Afghan forces into Farah.  This year, within 18 hours they were moving and closing 500 Commandos and special police from around the country.  The Afghan Army moved themselves.  Then they were able to clear the city and push the enemy outside of Farah.  The use of these forces is proving to be very effective, we just need more of them. 

That’s going to take a little more time.  You don’t turn around a 17-year war overnight.  It takes great resilience and patience and what we’re seeing is tremendous bravery and sacrifice on the part of the Afghan forces where they’re performing very well. 

Another issue is the replacement of leaders.  President Ghani’s initiative, the “inherent law” which has been implemented, is retiring many respected, but older leaders and replacing them with a newer generation of leaders.  As these new, younger leaders take the field, we are seeing improvements in the leadership at the tactical level.  This again will take some time.  In professional armies around the world, it takes years to grow effective officers.  We are seeing these improvements across the board.  What’s encouraging is to see the enthusiasm and the commitment of many young Afghans and the Commandos and the Air Force and the regular Afghan Security Forces to improve their performance and do better. 

And again, the support of the Afghan people for these young men and women who are joining the forces is impressive as well. So I think we’re on the right track.  Again, this is a tough war.  It’s a war.  A war is a contest of wills.  The Afghan Army and Police are demonstrating a will to succeed and defend their country. 

I want to point out the renewal of international support.  So at the last Brussels NATO Summit that we just had, we saw 2 more countries join the coalition so we went from 39 to 41 nations.  We saw all these nations agree to extend support to the Afghan Security Forces for 4 more years.  Out to 2024.  So there’s very strong international support for this army and great respect for their bravery and courage for what they’re doing.

Javed Ahmad Kaker, PAJHWOK AFGHAN NEWS: My question is to Gen. Nicholson.  We have lists for three months for election.  According to IEC, in 120 districts there is no female district council candidate because of security problems. What is Resolute Support doing for Afghan elections security?

Gen Nicholson: Thank you, Mr. Kaker.  The security for the Afghan elections is extremely important in the coalition.  We are encouraged to see the registration numbers and voter registration have achieved close to 9 million, although we realize that there’s gaps regionally.  Some for the reasons that you mentioned.  Some for the areas that are more insecure or areas that are difficult to reach. We’re going to continue to support the Afghan Security Forces logistically and with intelligence support and with other forms of support so they can reach all of the Afghan voters.  We believe the more secure the elections are, the more people can participate.  The more observers can be at the polls.  We believe with more participation and more observers at the poll, we increase our chances of having an election result that’s viewed as legitimate.  The legitimacy of the government is extremely important. 

Many of these factors go beyond security, they go into the conduct of how the election is run.  For questions with respect to the conduct of the elections, you’ll get the best answer by the Independent Election Commission and others.  With respect to the security, we’re working very closely with Afghan security forces trying to reach these areas and so I know they take this very seriously.  They want to give all Afghans the opportunity to vote.  There will be some areas that will be extremely difficult to reach and it may not be possible, but that, again, is going to be a decision that will be determined by the Afghan Security Forces and we’ll try to help them reach every possible place that they can.

Razuddin Barlas, KHAAMA PRESS: My question is for Gen. Votel. A few days ago the Ambassador of the British in Kabul City said that the war of Afghanistan is reached a deadlock and my question is it really that the war in Afghanistan is really facing deadlock and if this is true, what is the next step of Washington about it, and my next question is for Gen. Nicholson, and I have two questions. The first question is how much is right that inter-Afghan peace talks have failed, because a few days ago it was said that inter-Afghan peace talks have failed. And is that true? And my next question is what kind of cooperation do Qatar and Emirates have with NATO and the RS?

Gen. Votel: You are referring to the ambassador of Britain?

Pamir Kargar: The UK Ambassador in Kabul stated the war in Afghanistan is in a stalemate.

Gen. Votel: I think as I mentioned in my own comments, and as Gen. Nicholson has pointed out, and I think I mentioned here I mean it is a war. There is a fight going on here. And so Afghan forces are engaged with the enemy every day, and they make progress and in some areas they take casualties and there are set backs. So it is, there is a fight on going here.

So, you know we have to recognize that, but again as I tried to highlight in my comments to you as we look at this in the light of our overall strategy from what we are trying to do here. We are beginning to see cautious optimism with this that the strategy that we have applied here is the right one and that it is beginning to move us in the right direction and it is about improving the security situation but it is also about improving the ability of the Afghan forces.

It is also about reform efforts that are inherent in the government of Afghanistan it is about reinforcement of our efforts here as both Gen. Nicholson and I have talk about, about our NATO Allies and partners contributing more to this and to sustain their efforts, and most importantly it is about moving forward on reconciliation towards a peace process. This, I think is the most significant thing that we’ve seen over the last year. And that to me is the game changer.

That’s what different this time compared to what we’ve seen in the past. So, you know I won’t comment on what the British ambassador said. I’ll just tell you from my perspective, I think we are cautiously optimistic that the strategy we are applying here is one that is fit to the situation and it is moving us forward. It is going to take time. There is going to be more fighting. There is going to be setbacks along the way. No doubt. But in general the approach that we are taking here is the right one, and with patience and with the continued support, which we are getting from the international community, we’ll be well postured to move forward.

Gen. Nicholson: UAE and Qatar were officially accepted into the Resolute Support mission at the NATO Summit that occurred two weeks ago. Qatar has offered movement, logistical support, with their C17 fleet to fly into Kabul. And UAE has offered special operations forces to fight ISIS, and they have expressed a desire to be used and to fight against ISIS here in Afghanistan. And your first question had to do with the peace process, but can you please repeat the question?

Razuddin Barlas, KHAAMA PRESS: A few days ago some reports showed that the intra-peace talks in Afghanistan is failed. What is your idea? What is your concentrated? If it is failed what should the American government concentrate on?

Gen. Nicholson: So the peace talks of course, are an Afghan-led process. This needs to be a conversation amongst Afghans because there are many issues that need to be resolved and can only be resolved by the Afghan people.

Under what conditions would the belligerents reconcile? What would be acceptable to the Afghan people in terms of welcoming back those that they have been fighting for the last many years? When you look at the many positions outlined in the Taliban letter and in President Ghani’s offer there are differences, and so these issues need to be resolved amongst Afghans.

Now the United States has offered to facilitate, to participate and to help and obviously we play an important role here. So does the entire coalition. The whole coalition is supportive of the peace process. And we’ve offered to play the appropriate role in advancing the peace process. So again, that process seems to be starting now for the reasons I mentioned previously, for the two peace offers, for the ceasefire, the strong desire expressed by the Afghan people along with the strong support of the international community and the stated support of regional actors in support of the peace process.

So we think all of the conditions are set for the process to move forward. But again, that is going to be an Afghan-led process with the international community and the United States helping and supporting in ways that we can.

Lt. Col. O’Donnell: And this is going to be the last question

Phillip Waiter Wellman, STARS AND STRIPES: The Afghan government is considering another ceasefire next month, obviously you would support that. If the Taliban don’t agree to one of their own and it is just a unilateral ceasefire, would you recommend that? Could it do more harm than good, do you think?

Gen. Nicholson: Anything that lowers the level of violence is a great thing because lives are saved every day that fighting is stopped. And so we are strongly in support of that whenever it occurs, and clearly ceasefires by both sides are preferable to ceasefires by one side because it lowers the violence and fewer people die.

It also creates the space for the peace process to gain traction and to move forward and so we are in support of any ceasefire that could occur.

Now obviously it has to be managed and there are many details to be worked out and those are things that we discuss with our security counterparts, but President Ghani has been clear about his willingness to extend the ceasefire and we work with the security services here with what the mechanics of that would be and how that would be conducted.

And so, but we’re strongly in support of any opportunity to have another ceasefire or extend the existing ceasefire. So again we can give an opportunity for the peace process to begin in earnest.

Phillip Waiter Wellman, STARS AND STRIPES: So you don’t think they can take advantage of that though, the Taliban?

Gen. Nicholson: Of course, there is, let me put it this way – the strategic objective of achieving a peace settlement is the goal that we are after. There is tactical risk associated with that when you have a ceasefire there’s the risk that someone will try to take advantage of that, and I would call that risk tactical in nature, and that’s what we have to watch out for and what we need to help the Afghan Security forces manage, but the overall strategic objective of advancing the peace process in our view is worth the tactical risk, even as we work hard with them to manage the tactical risk. If we can manage the tactical risk and achieve the strategic aim that’s what we’re after.

Lt. Col. O’Donnell: Ladies and Gentlemen, just allow the generals to provide any closing comments and then if you would just stay seated to allow them to exit the room.

Gen. Votel: Thank you. Once again thanks to all of you for your questions this afternoon and we appreciate the opportunity to talk with you about this. We do as I mentioned in my opening comments, and as I think you heard throughout both of our sets of remarks and answers to your questions, there is reason to be positive about what is happening here in Afghanistan. We do recognize that there is a lot of work left to be done here. There will be more fighting. There will be potential setbacks, but the momentum is moving in the right direction here under our strategy and we are absolutely committed to continuing to move forward with it. So thank you very much.

Gen. Nicholson: And I just wanted to say to our Afghan viewers out there who are watching we are strongly behind you and your desire for peace. You saw this expressed by the international community recently at the Brussels NATO summit. Thirty-nine nations, now forty-one, are in the coalition supporting the Afghan people with a goal of achieving a peaceful settlement to this war that provides a stability and peace that you deserve and protects the security of the entire world. We are with you and as all of our heads of state recently identified at the Summit – we will stay with you. So we appreciate with tremendous respect and gratitude, your hospitality for our forces operating in your country alongside your forces. And again, Insha-Allah, we will achieve the peace that you so richly deserve. Thank you.

 

About Resolute Support Established in 2015, Resolute Support (RS) is a NATO-led, non-combat mission to train, advise and assist the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF), who assumed nationwide responsibility for Afghanistan’s security following the conclusion of the previous NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) mission.  Its purpose is to help the Afghan security forces and institutions develop the capacity to defend Afghanistan and protect its citizens in a sustainable manner.

 

For more information, email Resolute Support at pressoffice@hq.rs.nato.int, or via telephone at +93 (0)70-013-2114; after hours (2030-0830 AFT) at +93 (0)70-797-1096.

 

Additional photos are available on the Resolute Support Headquarters DVIDS page, which is at: https://www.dvidshub.net/unit/RS-HQ 

 

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