Army Gen. John Nicholson, commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, said in a recent interview that President Donald Trump’s new policy means that the Taliban cannot win.
Nicholson stated in an interview with NPR: “With the policy decision announced by President Trump, the Taliban can’t win. It sets the conditions to get to a peaceful resolution of this conflict.”
Such a bold claim is quite different from the one Nicholson made eight months ago to Congress, namely that the war in Afghanistan was a total stalemate.
While Nicholson still believes the current situation amounts to a stalemate, he thinks that state of affairs will change in short order.
“It’s still a stalemate right now,” he said. “I mean the authority, the troops, the air [power] are newly arrived. I’ve literally gotten these in the last six weeks. But with these, we can move now in the right direction.”
But now with more latitude from the White House and several thousand more troops to conduct punishing attacks on the Taliban, Nicholson believes that the current stalemate will soon be broken.
It’s not exactly clear what these new authorities amount to, as even Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona has complained about being kept in the dark. McCain is so frustrated about the lack of details on the new Afghanistan strategy six weeks after it was announced that he’s pledged to block Pentagon nominees until the White House feeds him more information.
But now Nicholson is ready to talk more about what the plan looks like, which includes doubling Afghan’s command force from 17,000 to 34,000 and doubling the Afghan Air Force. Soon, the Afghan military will have in its possession Black Hawk helicopters. The new strategy also strips away old deadlines and troop withdrawal timelines left over from the Obama administration. For Nicholson, this sends a clear message to the Taliban that it cannot just stall the U.S. until it leaves the region.
Also part of the strategy is aggressively moving against Taliban safe havens in Pakistan. If Pakistan doesn’t shut down safe havens, the U.S. may unilaterally conduct drone strikes. It’s unclear whether Pakistan will cooperate, as the country has basically ignored all forms of pressure up to this point since 9/11.
“The president said no partnership can survive when one of the partners is providing safe haven to terrorists who are attacking the other,” Nicholson said.
Nicholson thinks that with mounting pressure in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the Taliban will come to the negotiating table to rejoin society. Nicholson’s five-year goal is to bring violence down to a manageable level, so that the Afghanistan government can get a handle on it.
Right now, the U.S. is conducting airstrikes at the highest rate since 2010. In September, after Trump’s new strategy was released, the U.S. dropped 751 bombs, which is an increase of almost 50 percent from August.
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