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Old 05-31-2018, 01:26 PM
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Arrow The top US general in Afghanistan says some Taliban are interested in peace

The top US general in Afghanistan says some Taliban are interested in peace
By: Robert Burns, The Associated Press - 5-31-18
RE: https://www.militarytimes.com/flashp...sted-in-peace/

WASHINGTON — Some elements of the Taliban in Afghanistan are showing interest in peace talks, the top U.S. commander in Kabul said Wednesday, citing “off stage” contacts involving what he described as mid- and high-level leaders of the insurgency.

“A number of channels of dialogue have opened up between the various stakeholders in the peace process,” Gen. John Nicholson told reporters at the Pentagon. Speaking from his office in Kabul, Nicholson said he could not name names because the contacts are being pursued confidentially to improve the chances of advancing toward actual peace talks.

“What you’re seeing right now is a lot of the diplomatic activity and dialogue is occurring off the stage, and it’s occurring at multiple levels,” he said. “So you see mid-level, senior-level Taliban leaders engaging with Afghans.” He added that unspecified international organizations, foreign governments and other interested parties also are involved.

U.S. officials have talked up the prospects for peace many times over the course of the 17-year war in Afghanistan, only to be disappointed. When President Donald Trump announced last August that he was committing to winning the war with a revamped strategy, he said the goal was to compel the Taliban — with help from Pakistan and other interested nations — to seek peace. However, a U.S. government watchdog agency recently reported that it saw few signs that this strategy was working, while acknowledging that the Afghan security forces are getting better training.

Inside the Taliban, Nicholson said, there is a “robust dialogue” underway with regard to whether and how to end the war. He asserted there are “many points of intersection” between Taliban and Afghan proposals for pursuing peace.

“This is what, you know, leads me to the conclusion that there’s tremendous potential to advance the reconciliation dialogue,” he said. “And, again, I don’t want to go any further. My diplomatic colleagues are the ones that are involved in this, and their ability to be successful depends in part upon the confidentiality of the process.”

Seth Jones, a counterterrorism expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said there appears to be little prospect of an end to the battlefield stalemate between the Taliban and U.S.-supported Afghan forces. He said the Taliban lack military capabilities and popular support to hold key pieces of terrain, particularly in urban areas. But the Afghan government, he said, “is unlikely to defeat the Taliban on the battlefield for the foreseeable future.”

Among the things that could change the outlook, Jones said in an email exchange, are a shift by the U.S. to successfully target the most senior Taliban leaders, all of whom he said are based in Pakistan, including the top leader, Haibatullah Akhunzada.

Nicholson, who has commanded U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan since March 2016, is due to leave his post this summer. The Pentagon on Tuesday announced that Trump nominated Army Lt. Gen. Scott Miller to succeed Nicholson.

While speaking hopefully of peace prospects, Nicholson also told reporters that U.S. rocket artillery struck a gathering of Taliban commanders on May 24 in the Musa Qala district of Helmand province, killing “dozens.” His spokesman, Lt. Col. Martin O’Donnell, said earlier that more than 50 were killed but that an exact count has not yet been established.

On Wednesday, O’Donnell’s office put out a written statement saying that a series of U.S. strikes over a 10-day period in May, including the Musa Qala strike, had killed more than 70 “senior Taliban leaders.” It said these included the deputy shadow governor of Helmand province and multiple Taliban district governors.

In his description of the Musa Qala operation, Nicholson said the targeted Taliban commanders had assembled upon returning from the western province of Farah, where their fighters had attacked multiple security checkpoints and briefly taken control of the provincial city of the same name. Nicholson said 50 of these commanders had been tracked to Musa Qala and targeted by U.S. rocket artillery.

While saying the U.S. attack had disrupted the Taliban network in Helmand province, including its drug trafficking, Nicholson stopped short of saying the killing of dozens of insurgent commanders would have a decisive impact on the war.

“I would not call it strategic significance, but it definitely has a significant local significance in terms of the fight in southern Afghanistan,” he said.
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  #2  
Old 05-31-2018, 01:32 PM
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Arrow Follow up to the 1st thread by Army Gen. John Nicholson

Why should the US stay in Afghanistan? Here’s what the top commander there said.
By: Tara Copp - 5-40-18
RE: https://www.militarytimes.com/flashp..._source=clavis

It’s been two years since Army Gen. John Nicholson assumed command of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan.

He led the mission as President Donald Trump authorized changes to allow for more offensive operations against the Taliban and announced a new South Asia strategy that aims to ultimately bring reconciliation and a negotiated peace to Kabul.

Nicholson’s tenure comes to an end amid highly visible gains, such as the Afghan Air Force launching and sustaining their own air operations. However, it also comes amid reports from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction that Taliban forces have increased the percent of Afghanistan they control, and that the numbers of trained Afghan security forces have declined.

The Pentagon announced Tuesday that Army Lt. Gen. Scott Miller would serve as the next top U.S. commander in Afghanistan.

In a teleconference from Kabul with Pentagon reporters Tuesday, Military Times asked Nicholson why, after 17 years, the U.S. should continue to send its sons and daughters to Afghanistan? Why should the U.S. military stay?

Commander's Video Link of why we should stay there: blob:https://www.militarytimes.com/0a1693...e-4c7c74665f66

“Thanks for the question,” Nicholson said. “It’s really important, and it’s been a long war.”

“There is a threat from this region to our homeland. So our choice is fairly simple: We either keep the pressure on them here, or they bring the fight to our doorstep,” he said.

Nicholson stressed that since U.S. forces first arrived in October 2001, “our country has not been attacked from Afghanistan.” There are still more than 20 designated terrorist organizations that operate in Afghanistan, including the Islamic State-Khorasan, which took root in Afghanistan around 2015.

Because Afghanistan has not yet been able to stabilize, it’s meant those terror organizations have had ample population to recruit from, Nicholson said.

“It’s too soon to take the pressure off,” he said, noting that ISIS-K remains a threat.

There are about 15,000 U.S. troops now in Afghanistan, down from a peak of about 100,000 troops a year. Fiscal year 2018 operations are expected to cost about $45 billion, according to Pentagon officials’ testimony to Congress earlier this year. As of May 25, 2,264 U.S. service members have been killed there, according to Department of Defense casualty statistics.

Nicholson said Afghan forces have made important gains in repelling attacks and conducting offensive operations. However, he did not expect a time where there would be no conflict there.

“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.”

“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,” Nicholson said.

Does that mean that U.S. forces are there to stay, if the principal mission is now to prevent those groups from further constituting?

“Once we achieve the ends of the South Asia strategy, a reconciliation that lowers the violence to a level that they can manage, then our presence ... that will be the time to re-assess our presence,” Nicholson said.

About the writer: Tara Copp is the Pentagon Bureau Chief for Military Times and author of the award-winning military nonfiction "The Warbird: Three Heroes. Two Wars. One Story."
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O Almighty Lord God, who neither slumberest nor sleepest; Protect and assist, we beseech thee, all those who at home or abroad, by land, by sea, or in the air, are serving this country, that they, being armed with thy defence, may be preserved evermore in all perils; and being filled with wisdom and girded with strength, may do their duty to thy honour and glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

"IN GOD WE TRUST"
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