The outgoing commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan told reporters at a news conference Wednesday that the South Asia Strategy put in place a year ago by President Donald Trump is not only working, it’s bringing the 17-year war to its closest reconciliation point yet.
“The strategy is working,” Army Gen. John Nicholson, commander of NATO’s Resolute Support mission, told reporters. “Reconciliation progress is significant, and ultimately, wars end with a political settlement. So the progress toward reconciliation is key.”
As part of Trump’s strategy, the U.S. has increased its troop presence from 8,400 in the final months of President Barack Obama’s term to about 16,000 today, according to congressional statistics cited by Military Times.
By nearly doubling the number of U.S. troops in the region, the Taliban knows it will not be able to overwhelm Afghan forces and now must consider a negotiated peace.
“We were on a glide path to reduce our forces, and eventually to close down the mission,” said Nicholson, who was appointed by Obama. “At that time, the enemy had no incentive to negotiate, because we were leaving … the enemy believed we had lost our will to win. And all they needed to do was wait us out.”
“We have an unprecedented opportunity for peace now,” Nicholson added.
As further evidence of the success of Trump’s new strategy, Nicholson said there were two peace offerings proposed within six months of the South Asia Strategy being implemented. Within 10 months, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani offered a three-day ceasefire that produced striking images of Taliban fighters taking selfies with Afghan civilians.
According to Defense One, the U.S. and the Taliban have also reportedly opened a bilateral channel with the Ghani’s blessing.
“We’re seeing progress toward reconciliation,” Nicholson said. “What I would say is focus on the talking part of this…given that the traditional metrics of fighting are not explaining why the Taliban are willing to talk now.”
Not everything in Afghanistan suggests the Taliban is backing down. A recent four-day assault on Ghazni resulted in hundreds of deaths, including a number of civilians.
Nicholson said the Taliban is still capable of launching deadly attacks, but not necessarily capable of taking control of key areas of the country.
“This was not a military victory by any stretch. They were driven out of the city, and it was done in about four days,” he said. “Can they launch an attack for four days? Yes. Do those attacks succeed in gaining and holding ground? No.”
“There will be ups and downs,” Nicholson said of the fight against the Taliban. “There will be leaps ahead; there will be frustration; there will be two steps forward, one step back from time to time. But the process has started and it wouldn’t have happened without the South Asia Strategy.”
Nicholson admitted that despite the progress, “We certainly wanted to see this war be over many years ago.”
But with nearly two dozen terrorist groups based in the country, Nicholson believes the presence of U.S. and NATO forces would “prevent the emergence of some new threat to the homeland.”
“Our presence here does protect the homeland and prevent another 9/11,” he said. “I firmly believe that.”
Lt. Gen. Austin “Scott” Miller is slated to succeed Nicholson and take command in the fall. (For more from the author of “Army General: Trump’s Complete Reversal of Obama’s Strategy Is Working” please click HERE)