Kabul, Afghanistan, –
The desire for peace by the people of Afghanistan was both acknowledged and emphasized by the Resolute Support and U.S. Central Command commanders during a press conference at Resolute Support headquarters, July 23.
U.S. Army Gen. John Nicholson, Resolute Support and U.S. Forces-Afghanistan commander, and U.S. Army Gen. Joseph Votel, U.S. Central Command, who was visiting Afghanistan, told reporters the South Asia strategy, a conditions-based approach introduced by U.S. President Donald Trump nearly a year ago, is working.
"There is cause for cautious optimism and evidence that our South Asia strategy is working,” said Votel. "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 ceasefire.”
The U.S. generals described the remarkable changes in Afghanistan that have brought the country closer to peace than any time over the past 17 years of war.
"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 ceasefire,” said Votel.
A sentiment echoed by the Resolute Support commander.
"I’ve seen progress in the last year that I haven’t seen in the previous seventeen years and that’s significant,” said Nicholson.
While Nicholson acknowledged population security remained about the same, with some slight gains, he noted the real "difference” – advancements towards the reconciliation goal of President Trump’s South Asia strategy – cannot be understated.
"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,” said Nicholson.
Votel agreed, and when asked about the strategy and whether or not it requires a change or simply an adjustment, the U.S. Central Command commander said it 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,” said Votel. "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.”
One of the areas where progress is already being made is in Afghan security force reforms.
Afghan National Defense and Security Forces, supported by NATO advisors, continue to focus on training and developing new leaders throughout the force as older leaders, who have served their country for years with honor and dedication, retire as part of Inherent Law, the Afghan government’s retirement criteria that is in keeping with coalition partners’ military retirement systems.
"President Ghani’s initiative, Inherent Law, which has been implemented, is retiring many respected, but older leaders and replacing them with a newer generation of leaders,” said Nicholson. "As these new, younger leaders take the field, we are seeing improvements in the leadership at the tactical level.”
These improvements are leading to battlefield successes, particularly as Afghan forces, along with Resolute Support advisors and U.S. Forces-Afghanistan enablers, have increased pressure on Taliban irreconcilables, ISIS-K and other terrorists across Afghanistan since resuming offensive operations, June 30, following the expiration of the Afghan government’s cease-fire extension.
The press briefing concluded with a question regarding the potential for another ceasefire in August, which was recently announced for consideration by Afghan President H.E. Ashraf Ghani.
In his response, Nicholson expressed strong support for another such bold initiative.
"Anything that lowers the level of violence is a great thing because lives are saved every day that fighting is stopped,” said Nicholson. "And so we are strongly in support of that whenever it occurs.”
Before departing, the Resolute Support commander delivered a direct message of encouragement to the Afghan people.
"We are strongly behind you and your desire for peace,” said Nicholson. "We will achieve the peace that you so richly deserve.”
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.