WASHINGTON June 1, 2016 —
The Afghan National Defense and Security Forces are making slow
and steady progress, giving them momentum for an expected tough fight
ahead, Army Brig. Gen. Charles H. Cleveland said Wednesday in Kabul.
"It's still obviously very early in the fighting season [with] a
long way to go," Cleveland, Resolute Support's deputy chief of staff
for communications, told Pentagon reporters via teleconference.
"Frankly, there will be bad days over the coming months --
there's no doubt about that," he said. But the Afghan forces, he added,
are "slowly but surely getting progressively better."
Gains have been achieved in Kunduz, where the Afghan National
Defense and Security Forces' early spring offensive degraded the
Taliban, Cleveland said.
"Although the ANDSF did bend a little bit, they didn't break
and they were able to repel the Taliban," he said. "Once they
successfully did that, they were able to reopen lines of communication
out to the surrounding provinces."
The Afghan forces have performed better this year, in comparison to last year, Cleveland said.
"Based on that, we are cautiously optimistic about the coming
months, because overall we do believe that they have some momentum right
now," he said.
He reported a "small, slow [and] gradual, but steady level of improvement."
Cleveland cited the Afghan forces' increased expertise in their
newer capabilities, including in special operations. In addition, they
have switched from a defensive mindset to an offensive one, Cleveland
The commander of Resolute Support and U.S. Forces -
Afghanistan, Army Gen. John W. Nicholson, who assumed command March 2,
is wrapping up his 90-day assessment of the situation in the country,
The assessment is to include the overall threat situation,
current operations, resources, and projections for the future, he said.
Nicholson is expected to privately brief his chain of command
in the next days on his findings and any recommendations, Cleveland
said. His assessment at this point is expected to remain classified, to
allow for frank discussions with military leadership, according to
Some Taliban May Turn to Peace
Cleveland said he does not expect peace talks "anytime in the
short term" with the Taliban's new leader, Mullah Haibatullah
Akhundzada, who replaced Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansur.
Mansur was killed in a U.S. airstrike May 21 in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region.
Some Taliban members, according to Cleveland, might want to
abandon the fight, after seeing the precision strike that killed Mansur,
and being faced with continued violence and improved capabilities of
the Afghan forces.
"Our hope is that some of those lower-level people will begin to engage on the peace piece," Cleveland said.