Time to reassess US presence in Afghanistan only after reconciliation that lowers violence: NATO Commander

US Commander General John Nicholson praised Afghan security forces which he said has made tremendous progress in the fight against terrorism.

Published: 30th May 2018 06:26 PM  |   Last Updated: 31st May 2018 12:40 AM   |  A+A-

US soldiers in Afghanistan. (File photo)


WASHINGTON: The US would reassess its presence in Afghanistan only after reconciliation that lowers violence, a top American commander based in the war-torn country said today.

"I think that, once achieve the ends of the South Asia strategy, a reconciliation that lowers the violence to a level that they can manage, that will be the time to re-assess our presence," General John Nicholson, who is Commander of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan said during a video press conference from Kabul.

Till then, he ruled out any changes in the current American troop presence in Afghanistan.

At the same time, he praised Afghan security forces which he said has made tremendous progress in the fight against terrorism.

"The Afghan Air Force flew their first sortie two years ago, in an A-29. Today, they're dropping laser-guided bombs. We provided them UH-60 helicopters in September; they're flying their first combat missions now," he said.

"These people want to defend their own country. They view it as a matter of pride that they are the ones fighting and, if necessary, dying to protect their country. They are grateful for our presence," he said.

"The goal of the South Asia strategy is reconciliation, and, as President Ashraf Ghani says, it's been a game-changer," Nicholson said.

"Within six months of President Donald Trump's announcement and the implementation of the strategy, we had the elements of a peace proposal outlined by the Taliban in an open letter to America and a formal peace offer by President Ghani," he said.

Ghani's proposal was unanimously endorsed by the international community at the Kabul peace process conference and at the Tashkent conference.

Diplomatic activity picked up substantially at that point, and a number of channels of dialogue have opened up between the various stakeholders in the peace process, the American general noted.

"Now, what's been encouraging is that, concurrent with this intensified dialogue, we saw the levels of violence drop to lower levels. Specifically, between February, when these offers were made, and the end of April, the levels of enemy-initiated violence dropped to 30 percent below the five-year average," he said.

"Then, on 25 April, the Taliban announced their offensive. In the months since, we have seen the violence increase, but still to a level that is 10 per cent to 12 per cent below the five-year average. I call this talking and fighting," the US commander said.

As Defence Secretary Jim Mattis has said, violence and progress can coexist, and that's what is being seen.

"We've seen this in other conflicts, such as Colombia, where the two sides were talking about peace at the same time that they were fighting each other on the battlefield," he said.

Under the South Asia policy, he said, US forces have got additional firepower and additional authorities.

"The Taliban have generally, then, sought to avoid our airpower and attack more remote district centers. The one exception, this spring, has been the city of Farah, and I will come back to that specifically," he said.

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