The commander of the NATO Resolute Support mission and U.S. forces in Afghanistan said this week that he still has never spoken with President Trump.
During a July 19 meeting with Defense Secretary James Mattis, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford and other officials, Trump “repeatedly” suggested getting rid of Gen. John Nicholson because the U.S. isn’t winning, according to NBC News, and “inquired about the United States getting a piece of Afghan’s mineral wealth.” Trump has never met Nicholson.
Mattis reportedly told Trump that the U.S. isn’t gaining as much ground as it should because it lacks the necessary strategy. Officials told the network they were hoping Trump would sign off on a new strategy at the meeting. “Trump compared the policy review process to the renovation of a famed New York restaurant in the 1980s… officials said Trump kept stressing the idea that lousy advice cost the owner a year of lost business and that talking to the restaurant’s waiters instead might have yielded a better result.”
The next month, Trump said at Fort Myer that though his “original instinct was to pull out” of Afghanistan over frustration with the course of the 16-year war there, his advisers convinced him that “the consequences of a rapid exit are both predictable and unacceptable.”
At a news briefing in Brussels on Wednesday, Nicholson was asked if he had spoken with Trump since the commander in chief came into office in January and whether he believes he has the president’s confidence.
“No, I haven’t spoken with him,” the general replied. “Yes, I believe I have his confidence. And I say that because the policy that we received on August 21st is everything that I asked for.”
“We communicate through the chain of command. So I communicate on a regular basis with [CENTCOM commander] General Votel and [NATO SACEUR and EUCOM commander] General Scaparrotti — met with Secretary Mattis again last night,” he added. “You know, we have a chain of command, that’s what we use to communicate and my requests and assessments and inputs have all made it up the chain of command to the appropriate level.”
Nicholson, who has served as Afghanistan commander since March 2016, said he spoke with President Obama “when he hired me and then at the end of his tour and we gave — we offered a final assessment.”
The general said additional troops began deploying to Afghanistan the month after Trump announced an increase in troop levels.
Nicholson told reporters in December that up to 30 percent of ISIS fighter in Afghanistan had been eliminated by the end of 2016. He said this week that about two-thirds of ISIS fighters there have now been killed, including their past three emirs.
“Our number one goal is to prevent the migration of any Islamic State from Syria or Iraq to Afghanistan. And we’re on track, accomplishing that goal. So we’re not seeing any migration of fighters coming from Syria or Iraq, even as they get squeezed and pressed and destroyed there,” he said. “They’re going elsewhere, but they’re not coming to Afghanistan. And the reason is we’re reducing — defeating their so-called caliphate that they have attempted to establish in Afghanistan.”
ISIS fighters in Afghanistan have primarily been Pakistani, along with some Uzbeks. The terror group has been “actively recruiting as we’ve been killing them,” but Nicholson estimated their numbers to be below 1,000.
“The goal this year was to defeat this attempt at a caliphate, to prevent a migration of fighters from Syria. And so we’re on — we’re on that goal. There is no migration of fighters from Syria. We have defeated their ability to create a caliphate within which they could attract fighters from Syria. So that hasn’t happened,” the general explained.
“This is extremely important, because this is the false narrative that the Russians are promoting — is that there are thousands of ISIS fighters in Afghanistan, they’re going to spill over into Central Asia; therefore, the Russians justify their support to the Taliban, because the Taliban are fighting ISIS and not the government. This is a false narrative.”
Nicholson wouldn’t elaborate on the nature of assistance Russia is providing to the Taliban, who are stalwart allies of al-Qaeda and the Haqqani network and warned at the end of October that they were going to let a sick American hostage die.
“Helping the Taliban is contributing to the instability that enables these terrorists to take root, so that the assistance that’s being provided to the Taliban by the external enablers, and that includes Russia and — primarily Pakistan, but also Russia and Iran, is undermining the stability and is actually self-destructive behavior by these nations,” he said.