ARLINGTON, Va. — The outgoing commander of U.S. Forces Afghanistan and the Resolute Support Mission said today that the “choice is fairly simple” on whether to stay or bail 17 years into the war there.
Gen. John Nicholson, appearing via video link, was asked by a reporter at a Pentagon briefing why the U.S. should “continue to send its sons and daughters to Afghanistan” as he reflects on his two-year command; Army Lt. Gen. Scott Miller has been named Nicholson’s successor.
Nicholson acknowledged “it’s been a long war,” but in that time “our country has not been attacked from Afghanistan.”
“Remember that 21 designated terrorist organizations exist in this region,” he noted. “ISIS-K, for example, did not exist in this region until about 2014, 2015, and it primarily was created by members of other groups. So the fact — when you have a large number of groups in close proximity, with a significant population to recruit from — means that there is a threat from this region to our homeland.”
The “fairly simple” America faces, the general said, is “we either keep the pressure on them here, or they bring the fight to our doorstep.”
“And so the two principal groups that we’re concerned about there are al-Qaeda and Islamic State. Thanks to the great work by our counterterrorism forces, we have devastated it — al-Qaeda, but they still exist. Islamic State has ambitions. Now, again, because of great work by our CT forces, we’ve been able to keep pressure on them. But it’s too soon to take the pressure off.”
Nicholson said some Taliban members have been angling for reconciliation through peace negotiations, something the general said could deliver “an increased degree of stability here — again, this is Afghanistan, there will always be violence.”
“But, if we achieve an increased degree of stability and a lowering of the violence to a level that the Afghans can manage, then it’s going to be much easier to keep pressure on these terrorist groups, and that’s in the benefit of our nation and all the nations of the coalition,” he said. “And, on that last point, I’d say this is not just an American mission. There are 39 nations here. In fact, we have two more that have recently offered to join: UAE and Qatar. And so these nations not only contribute troops; they contribute financially and they bring the legitimacy of a 39-nation coalition to keep pressure on these terrorist groups.”
“So preventing these terrorists from launching attacks out of this area — again, largest concentration of terrorist groups anywhere in the world — is the principal reason why we’re here. And we have been successful in protecting our homeland from attacks emanating from this region, ever since 9/11.”
Nicholson lauded Afghan counterterrorist forces as “the best in the region” and reminded Americans that the Afghans “are fighting not only on behalf of their own country, but literally on behalf of all of us by keeping pressure on the terrorists here so we don’t have to fight them on our own doorstep.”
The general also noted “tremendous strides in social progress inside Afghanistan” over 17 years of war, such as in healthcare, women’s education, and life expectancy.
“Again, access to healthcare has reduced some of the infant mortality and maternal mortality,” Nicholson added. “Clean water, polio vaccinations — all of this has resulted in an increase in life expectancy in Afghanistan from the early 40s to almost 60 years old.”