Transcript of News Conference with General Nicholson Nov. 8, 2017

8 Nov 2017

GENERAL JOHN NICHOLSON:  Just a few opening remarks that might cover some of the ground, and then jump right into it.

So, first off, thanks to everyone for joining us here today, and for covering this event.  This is extremely important.  You know, I'm -- in addition to being a U.S. commander and NATO commander, we have 39 nations.  Many of them are here today.

So, of course, one of -- one of my important messages is to express gratitude for all the nations that have remained committed to Afghanistan for so long.  And earlier -- or tomorrow, after the NATO defense minister, or else the following day, I'll go talk to some of the E.U. nations that are involved, as well.  So we deeply appreciate their continued support to Afghanistan.

So the -- I know -- I know we want to jump into the questions, but I will cover a few things that might be useful as background.  First off, on the new South Asia strategy, I know the secretary of defense has covered this -- some of this with you.  But this new U.S. strategy is really in keeping with the NATO position from last year.

One of the major points here was that it is conditions-based, not time-based.  So this brings a U.S. policy in line with -- with NATO strategy, as well.  And we have had a modest uplift of forces.  Again, I can talk about some of this in greater detail.

But the point here, between the troops, time, authorities -- all allows increased military pressure on the enemy.  Again, this is in support of President Ghani's roadmap, so this roadmap we developed last year, and that is playing out.  I can get into the details that, if you like.

But essentially, it involves increasing the offensive capability of the Afghan military -- specifically, their commandos, their air power -- to enable them to go on the offensive, really, beginning next year, to expand control over the population, and which will bring military pressure to bear on the enemy.

This, coupled with pressure on the external enablers of the insurgency, as well as social pressure at the ballot box, with the elections over the next two years, is all designed to bring the Taliban to the table.  And so this is a fight-and-talk approach.

So the door is open to these conversations.  Indeed, that's already started, as you've seen.  There was a quadrilateral contact group meeting that occurred previously.  There's other fora for peace negotiations.  So we're encouraging the enemy to engage in these conversations as we increase the pressure.

This year, we fought most of the year, however, at the lowest level of capability that we've ever had in the 16 years.  So it was the lowest level of capability and the highest level of risk we've faced in this time.  Part of the reason for the higher risk was [that] we're only at 80 percent.  We were only at an 80 percent fill on our combined joint statement of requirements.

I did want to take a second to describe this process, because I know you've had some questions on how this works.  So NATO gives me a mission as a NATO commander.  Then I go back to NATO and say, "This is what's required to accomplish the mission."

And then that requirement that I get back is validated at the various echelons of command, all the way up to the North Atlantic Council.  And then this is translated into what's called a combined joint statement of requirements.

So, for this mission, you know, you've seen the numbers.  It's about 15,800.  So this, then, becomes the number that I'm looking for.  So this is the minimum manning requirement for the mission.  So I've been 80 -- at -- only at 80 percent of that minimum, and that's why we've been at a higher level of risk.

So my request to all of the nations has been consistently to fill the CJSOR at 100 percent, so that we can limit the risk to the mission.  So that is it.  Now, this does not include those additional forces that nations may bring for the national support elements that they maintain, or, in the case of the U.S., the counterterrorism mission.

Now, the CJSOR, then, once it's validated, go -- we go into a -- what's called a force-generation process.  That process is still playing out, okay?  So, tomorrow, we'll hear some announcements from nations on their intent to fill the CJSOR.  But frankly, it's still playing out.

This is why you're not getting precise answers on the numbers.  So -- and the ability of a nation of to commit to filling the CJSOR also depends on their own internal political cycle.  And, you know, every nation is on its own internal timeline with respect to that.  So in some cases, a mandate has to be renewed, parliament has to make a decision, and so forth. 

So this is why this is not precise business on the numbers.  And we will get -- I'm encouraged by the fact that I understand we're getting more commitments.  This is -- this work is primarily done here in Brussels, you know, by the leadership of NATO, and by the leadership at SHAPE headquarters.

So I'm not going to be able to offer you any additional precision on the numbers, frankly, because, you know, we're still waiting for this to all play out.  But that's where we are on that. 

So I did want to talk about this year or so.  So we went into the year, again, with the lowest level of capability, highest level of risk.  But the Afghans performed quite well, from my perspective as the commander.

Why do I say that?  They went on the offensive in ways that they haven't done previously.  We had offensive operations being conducted in all six of the corps simultaneously.  We saw a decrease in casualties that occurred in September.  So, even though there was some very tough fighting, the enemy was unable to accomplish any of their objectives this year.

As you -- as you saw last year, we had eight attacks on cities around the country.  This year, we only experienced one, and whenever the enemy attempted to mass, he was subjected to U.S. airpower and suffered heavy, heavy casualties -- much higher than the Afghans. 

The -- why were they more successful this year in terms of offensive operations?  Because, at the beginning of the fighting season, President Ghani replaced five of the six core commanders.  This lowered the average age of the core commanders by 10 years, and they came into their duties with more energy, frankly, and more offensive mindset.  And it showed on the battlefield. 

So we saw gains in Helmand, where, advised and assisted by the -- Task Force Southwest, the U.S. Marines down there, the 215th Corps expanded the security around Lashkar Gah, retook Nawa district, which had been in Taliban hands for two years, as an example.

And the 205th Corps, to the east -- we saw an expansion of the security around Tarin Kot.  We saw a retaking of Ghorak district, another district in Kandahar that had been in enemy hands for a while.  We saw an expansion of security around Kunduz. 

So, again, these gains were all local.  I wouldn't -- I don't want to overstate them.  But they're significant in the sense that you -- the Afghans were on the offensive. 

The Taliban were frustrated.  This brought them by September, then, with their casualties being high and their accomplishments low.  They -- they convened their leadership and decided what to do about this.  They determined to conduct a series of suicide attacks in October, which they did, but these primarily injured civilians.  Even though they did attack some military installations and police installations, the majority of the casualties were civilian casualties. 

So on this point, we saw in spite of this an overall reduction in CIVCAS this year by about 38 percent -- that's UNAMA's figure -- but an increase in the percentage of those casualties that were caused by the enemy.

So the -- again, it's the Afghan people who primarily suffer from the enemy attacks, through these -- the indiscriminate use of large explosive devices, which we saw on the 31st of May, and again here in October. 

So the -- so we end the year at roughly the same, in terms of population control, as we were at the beginning of the year.  However, they are going to be postured, going into 2018, to go on the offensive. 

Why is this?  Because of the recruitment and training of Afghan commandos and the -- and the growth that's beginning in the Afghan Air Force.  So in the Afghan commandos we graduated 900 new commandos last month.  We'll graduate another 1,000 new commandos in December.  These commandos will be joining the ranks of the existing commando units and -- and increasing the offensive capability.

Afghans have their first four Blackhawk helicopters.  These will primarily be used for training, but this is significant because it shows, again, another important milestone in the growth of the Afghan Air Force.  We're going to triple the Afghan Air Force and this is going to add to their offensive capability. 

Additionally, there's been some changes signed into law and the inherent law, which governs the personnel system of the Afghan Security Forces.  This will result in a -- the beginning of, kind of, a generational change in the leadership of the Afghan Security Forces. 

One final word on corruption, before we get into questions.  We've got a -- the biometric enrollment of every soldier and every police officer in the Afghan Security Forces is ongoing.  This will be complete by April.  We also have, for the first time, a commitment by President Ghani to -- he's allowed audit teams to go into the banking system and the Ministry of Finance to actually follow our money as it enters the Afghan banking system.  All the way down to the soldier who's biometrically enrolled.  This is a first.  And this was -- this is only possible because of President Ghani's commitment to reform inside the security ministries.  So with that let me -- let me turn it over to you all for questions.

Q:  Hi, General.  Thank you for giving us some time today.  When we were in Afghanistan with Gen. Bartell in August, the Afghans kept talking about their need for more advisers at all different levels, including the commandos.  Can you talk to us about this effort to get your requirements filled and where are the shortfalls?  Are they shortfalls in trainers?  Are they shortfalls in support staff?  Can you give us a sense of where you're having a hard time filling certain posts and when and if you expect to see that at 100 percent?

GEN. NICHOLSON:  Right.  So the shortfalls in the CJSOR, the -- the broad categories and the ones I'm most concerned about are the following: number one, Special Forces, trainers and advisers.  Number two, Air Force trainers and advisers, number three would be the schools of the Afghan military and police and then the fourth would be force protection. 

So this is primarily where the shortfalls in the CJSOR are, where we've asked for help.  The -- the other part of your question in terms of going forward, what we're looking to do is advise to a lower level in the Afghan Security Force.  As you -- as you heard the Chairman say in testimony, and I certainly agree.  We drew down too far too fast when we started our draw down in 2011. 

We really didn't stop until 2016.  So it was last December we drew out even more troops.  So that now and what that has meant is, we -- we pulled off of all of the units below the corps level and those, of course, are the ones that are doing most of the fighting.  So, what's going to be different next year is an addition to the advising of the Special Forces which we have been doing down to the Kandak level throughout.  We're now going to be able to do that in every core area, in at least one brigade at a time and every corps going into 2018.  This is going to significantly change things on the battlefield next year.

Q:  But do you expect the allies, the NATO, the country's other partners to be able to fill those positions or do you expect that the U.S. will have to come in in the end and do a lot of that backfill, if they don't?

GEN. NICHOLSON:  I -- I -- I've asked the allies to fill them and -- and we've -- you know, our U.S. troops are focused on the -- on the tasks that I've given them.  And I -- we -- we need the allies to fill these billets and especially things like the schooling system so that Americans can do the things that only Americans can do, specifically, the use of U.S. authorities in supporting the Afghans.

And so, we -- we have made it very clear to the allies that we really need their help in filling these billets that we've identified.

Q:  General, I think we last spoke on -- in December...

GEN. NICHOLSON:  Yeah.

Q:  ...when you briefed us at the Pentagon Press Corps.

It's been widely reported, and Reuters reported it at the time as well, that President Trump was frustrated with the, sort of, Afghan war effort and actually suggested that you'd be fired.  Have you spoken to the president personally since he's come into power? 

And do you believe you have his confidence -- and the reason I ask, it's not because of political reasons, but we've seen -- for example, with General McChrystal -- when there's a disconnect between the White House and the commander on the ground it doesn't end well.

So have you spoken with him and do you believe you have his confidence?

GEN. NICHOLSON:  No, I haven't spoken with him.  Yes, I believe I have his confidence.  And -- and I say that because the policy that we received on August 21st is everything that I asked for.

Q:  The fact that you haven't spoken with him -- for many Americans, I believe, will be quite worrying, I mean, you are the top U.S. General in Afghanistan.

GEN.  NICHOLSON:  We...

Q:  Are you concerned that he has not taken out the time to speak to you?

GEN. NICHOLSON:  No.  We communicate through the chain of command.  So I -- I communicate on a regular basis with Gen. Votel and Gen. Scaparrotti  -- met with Secretary Mattis again last night.  You know, we have a chain of command, that's what we use to communicate and my requests and assessments and inputs have all made it up the chain of command to the appropriate level.

Q:  Can I ask, had you spoken with President Obama when he was in power?

GEN. NICHOLSON:  When he hired me and then at the end of his tour and we gave -- we offered a final assessment.

Q:  Sorry, (inaudible) ask you about the Afghan casualty rates, I know that number is something that the U.S. military considers classified now, the latest SIGAR report, at least, said that it was still at unsustainable levels.

Can you talk about some of the things you're doing -- first off, can you give us any assessment on what the casualty rates are now?

GEN. NICHOLSON:  Sure.

Q:  This is for Afghan security forces and what you're doing to temper?

GEN. NICHOLSON:  Yeah, so  -- so the casualty rates were classified at the request of the Afghan government.  So that was a specific request by them and we have -- everyone in our government's aware of what -- you know, why we chose to classify that.

So the -- as far as the rates, what we saw was continued heavy casualties this year until, by September, the effect of these Afghan offensive operations started resulting in an actual downturn of Afghan casualties.

So we saw about a 20 percent decrease in casualties when they went on the offensive.  So this was very encouraging.

Now, enemy casualty rates have been much higher than -- than the ANDSF but I'm not going to get into a competition of numbers over casualties.  The point is, this army has fought well, they've taken heavy casualties, but they've demonstrated over the last three years now -- '15, '16, '17 -- that they can take these hits and keep going.  They are holding two-thirds of the population of the country, they are posturing to expand that control over the next few years, but they are in a tough fight.

I'd say the other point about this is it demonstrates they own the fight.  I mean, this is their fight, they're willing to do it, they're willing to continue the effort in spite of the difficulties they're facing and they're -- and they are continuing to prove themselves on the battlefield.

Q:  Twenty percent of the last number that I saw would still put it into the thousands, casualties, is there anything that the U.S. is planning to do to help support the medevac capability, for example, and I'm talking about two troops in contact, soldiers who have not been stabilized yet?

GEN. NICHOLSON:  Sure, so -- so the number one thing we can do to help reduce casualties and improve the leadership.  The second thing we can do is their -- on their tactics.  And this is to go on the offensive and to get away from static checkpoints.

So the majority of these casualties are lost in defensive fights at small checkpoints in remote areas.  And so what we're encouraging our Afghan teammates to do is reduce the number of checkpoints and get more of your forces in an offensive posture.

And so this -- we are seeing, you know, small steps towards improvement here.  The changes in the leadership are significant.  I mean, in those units where we changed out the leaders this year, we saw significant improvements in their performance on the battlefield.

And what the -- what I mentioned before -- the inherent law changes where we're going a generational change in the leadership -- so the inherent law norms of the Afghan retirement system to those used by other armies.  So the Afghans looked at the model used by the Indian army, and have chosen to model their retirement system after that.

What that means is there's going to be significant retirements of senior officers, and that -- which will allow younger, better educated, more energetic officers moving into positions of leadership on the battlefield, and in the units in the field.  This will make a significant difference in terms of their battlefield performance.  So that's number one.

Now, with respect to the -- you know, evacuating casualties from the battlefield, yes, we'll see steady improvements in that.  When there are occasions where we evacuate Afghan casualties, when we're helping enable a unit -- for example, working with their special forces -- and this does help reduce the casualty rate.  We have very low casualties in our commando units, even though they're employed on 70 percent of the offensive operations.

But it's not just because they have a medevac helicopter available; it's because they're on the offensive.  They're aggressive.  The commandos have never lost a fight against the Taliban.  That's why we're doubling the number of commandos.  And so we're going to see significant changes next year, when the thousands of new commandos enter the -- enter the fight.

Q:  And, just a last one, sir.  Are you considering any medevac -- U.S. medevac (inaudible) where there are not U.S. advisers on the ground?  And is that going to be a part of any of the troop increase --

GEN. NICHOLSON:  We --

Q:  -- additional troop increase, (inaudible)?

GEN. NICHOLSON:  -- we -- whenever we put additional advisers out, those U.S. advisers always have all of the enablers they need to be successful.  That includes medevac, but it also includes fires, ISR, command and control, air support. 

And so, if they're with a unit that they're advising, then, you know, as appropriate, those capabilities are available to them.  So, within my authorities, we can use those combat enablers in support of the Afghans, and we will.

Q:  Sir?

GEN. NICHOLSON:  Yes.

Q:  Thank you, sir.  Going back to the CJSOR, the SIGAR report from September that -- (inaudible) -- 15 years of lessons learned -- one of their --

GEN. NICHOLSON:  Right. 

Q:  -- kind of big topics was the Afghan training mission now, and how those advisers were historically understaffed for pretty much the entirety of the mission.

Do you expect a similar kind of situation, going forward, where that part of the mission is understaffed?  And, if so, will you supplement those numbers with U.S. -- more U.S. troops, because it is such a key part of your strategy?  And then I have a follow-up.

GEN. NICHOLSON:  Yes, that was a good report.  I thought it offered a lot of insights into what's gone well, where we can improve.  This issue -- I mean, one of the main points there was this issue of the training infrastructure and training base -- the Afghan -- is very important. 

And, as a consequence of a rapid drawdown, we pulled our advisers out of their schools.  And, as I mentioned, I think it was too soon.  And so what we've seen is, in those schools where we haven't had advisers -- is the quality of the instruction has dropped and the quality of the support has dropped. 

So we're doing a couple things here. One is the Afghans have created a training command, okay?  So, as you know, in the U.S. military, we have training commands that oversee this. 

So this has now been created and we are mentoring that.  And so that is a significant step in improving the quality of the training.  And then what we've done is we've asked allies to fill key schools and there is about a dozen of them, plus or minus that -- that's military and police -- branch schools, police academies, et cetera, where we want to get advisers into the school to help improve. 

So we're still awaiting the final bids from everyone, not all, but most of those schools are filled, not all of them are filled.  We're still waiting to see who -- which ones we get -- get bids on.  I'm -- I'm most concerned about police training, in particular, because we're trying as part of this four-year road map to get the police out of paramilitary policing and focused on civil policing. 

So this is difficult for nations because we're all military, primarily we're offering soldiers, you know, Marines to come advise.  We're not professional policemen.  So this is one area where we have asked the alliance for help especially the -- those nations that have, you know, Carabinieri or other gendarme type forces to help us in this regard. 

So we can -- we can use contractors in some of these roles, you know, hiring retired police officers to come in and help train.  That's -- that's not my first choice.  We'd rather have serving police officers -- serving police professionals to come into those roles. 

But part of this is going to have to wait and see what -- what we get offers on.  Frankly, right now, I -- my plan is to have U.S. forces focused on the things that only U.S. forces can do.  So I would not like to have to divert U.S. forces to do things that allies could perform. 

Q:  Second question, I kind of -- on your answer I just -- the ideas that have the U.S. forces doing the only thing that U.S. forces can do, I mean, that's kind of the like combined arms strike getting lower, to the front, I guess, and while the back area is the training if that goes unfilled, kind of, looking at the same issue that we've had for the last 16 years you could say. 

But my second questions is, since we are kind of going to the more combined arms fight here since September, there's  less Afghan casualties in a while.  (Inaudible) it's also the same month that there was the most U.S. air strikes since 2012, so I’m sure there’s a correlation. 

OIR, kind of a similar model enabling local forces with air strikes, (inaudible) et cetera.  Can you, kind of, commit to going to that model where your strikes and civilian casualties are reported monthly or daily, weekly, something that I think (inaudible)...

GEN. NICHOLSON:  You mean -- you mean in terms of how many air strikes?  That data is available I think at the CAOC.  But you're saying in terms of the CIVCAS?

Q:  Yes, CIVCAS and...

GEN. NICHOLSON:  Yes.

Q:  And the monthly releases. 

GEN. NICHOLSON:  Oh, monthly?  Oh, I know -- I -- yes, okay.  So while -- you know, for the majority of my command we've been in policy development one way or the other.  Whether it's under the Obama administration or the Trump administration. 

So now that the policy's announced, we are going to increase our engagement with the media.  And so, I look forward to talking with you all again, I think, after Thanksgiving, I'm looking to give a more comprehensive roll up of the whole year.  So yes, we'll do more engagement with the media.  And as far as the statistics I was quoting on the civilian casualties are primarily from the U.N.  And so, they are viewed as a, you know, objective arbiter. 

We don't always agree with all the casualties.  But generally speaking, this -- this trend of a reduction in CIVCAS, we -- we concur with.  So yes, we're going to have more engagement with media going forward.

Q:  General, will -- The U.S. has talked about and you talked about putting advisers down at a lower level, not just in the corps, but at the -- the brigade level.  Maybe (inaudible), in some cases.

GEN. NICHOLSON:  Yes.

Q:  Are allies going to be doing that in their areas?  Like, would that happen in the sort of north, where the Germans are, or where the Italians are? 

Is this something that allies are going to agree to, as well, to go to this lower level?  Or is this something that only U.S. forces will do, because of the enabler kind of issue you talked about?

GEN. NICHOLSON:  So the -- what -- first I'd say, within the NATO mandate, the collective military advice of the chiefs at defense of NATO was to advise below the corps level.  So this is not a U.S. initiative.  This is something that NATO has staked out as advice over a year ago.

And so what we did was we added into the CJSOR last year -- and this isn't a U.S.-only add.  This was a -- brigade-level advising teams -- we call them expeditionary advising teams -- in each of the corps.  And so this is a NATO approach, to advise below the corps level.

I would also add that we already have NATO advisers, non-U.S., embedded in units down to the kandak level.  So, for example, special police unit 222 in Kabul is advised by the -- by the Norwegian special forces.

And the special police units of the -- of the Afghan MOI -- the leader of that team is a British officer with a British team.  So you've got -- we do have allies already advising, especially in the SOF arena, down to the kandak level.

Now, the decisions on advising to a lower level will be up to those nations, I mean, in keeping with their mandates.  So most nations have a mandate, and the mandate's reviewed by their parliaments, and then that determines the ways in which their troops are employed.

So the U.S. -- (inaudible) -- are advising down to a lower level.  We've been doing this in the Special Forces arena for some time.  Indeed, we've never stopped.  We've always had Special Forces, ODAs with Afghan commando kandaks on the battlefield.

The change we're going to see next year is the new U.S. Army Security Force Assistance Brigade.  This is a new type of formation that is being built by the U.S. Army.  There will be six of them.  The first one will be deployed to Afghanistan.

And within that brigade will be the capability to advise up to six -- six Afghan brigades and 50 kandaks at a time.  So there -- these are specially formed teams of advisers, so that they come and fall in on a unit, or multiple units, depending on the -- on who's engaged operationally. 

So this unit will be deploying here in the New Year, and then this is the unit we'll be using to help advise the Afghan conventional forces.  So the difference is the same kind of advising we've done for the Special Forces, we're now going to do in the conventional forces.  And this will enable them to conduct offensive operations, so.

Q:  Sir --

GEN. NICHOLSON:  Yes. 

Q:  -- thanks for your time today. 

Looking at where you are, as far as filling out the American increase, that 3,500 -- 3,800 that I've read bandied about in Congressional documents at this point, where are you in terms of getting those forces in?

And what do you still need at this point?  I mean, we've seen, you know, increased joint fires, medevac, HIMARS, things like that.  What do you still need coming?

GEN. NICHOLSON:  Yes.  So I don't want to get into specific operational details, Dan, but I will say we -- we've got the initial uplift of forces that we requested.  That force -- as you know, we routinely turn over units.

So we'll be doing some recomposing of the force, if you will, over the winter, so that, in the spring, when we -- when the Afghans initiate offensive operations, they'll be -- they'll be advised down at the brigade level and kandak level, as they begin these. 

So the -- these forces will involve not only the advisers that I referenced from the Special Forces Advisory Brigade, but the enablers I mentioned -- you know, the command and control, the ISR, the fires, the medevac, so that, when American advisers step on the battlefield, all of those enablers will be in support of them.  And so that process is ongoing now.  That's going to occur over the winter, so we'll be ready to go in the spring.

Q:  And just to be clear, you said the uplift is "all in,” meaning the increased number that was authorized?  They were all --

(CROSSTALK)

GEN. NICHOLSON:  Yes, so they -- so they deployed -- as soon as President Trump made his decision, we began deploying.  But, again, what I -- the picture I'm trying to paint, though, is, you know, we're constantly turning over troops.  So we had troops come in, and then some other troops will leave over the winter and other troops will come in.

So we did get the uplift we immediately requested.  So, as soon as the decision was made, those troops, you know, started flowing.  And we also got additional airpower.  The airpower was able to have an effect in September.  The additional troops really arrived over the month of September. 

So they didn't -- they weren't in the -- you know, in their roles in the month of September, but the airpower was.  And it made a difference, as you heard earlier, in terms of the fighting in September.

Q:  Okay. 

STAFF:  And we've got time for a last ...   

Q:  Thank you. A couple of quick questions, if I may.  First of all, Capt. Salvin told us earlier this year that there's a very good chance that I.S. would be wiped out in Afghanistan by the end of the year, and obviously that's going to happen.  Can you tell us what the current number is?  And I have a second question.

GEN. NICHOLSON:  Yes.  So it -- our goal, of course, on Islamic State -- so, our number one goal is to prevent the migration of any Islamic State from Syria or Iraq to Afghanistan.  And we're on track, accomplishing that goal.  So we're not seeing any migration of fighters coming from Syria or Iraq, even as they get squeezed and pressed and destroyed there.

They're going elsewhere, but they're not coming to Afghanistan.  And the reason is we're reducing -- defeating their so-called caliphate that they have attempted to establish in Afghanistan. 

So this area that they attempted to seize was in Nangarhar province.  They wanted to establish Jalalabad as the capital of their caliphate.  They've been -- they've been completely thwarted in that.  When I took command, they occupied about nine districts of Nangarhar.  They're now squeezed into three. 

We've killed two-thirds of their fighters.  We've killed their last three emirs.  As soon as they declare an emir, within months, he's dead.  And they -- they've got -- so the leadership's being dismantled.  The fighters are being killed and their space is being reduced.

Now, what the enemy has done in response to this is they've attempted to establish new enclaves elsewhere in the country.  So we've seen these enclaves emerge in Kunar province and Jowzjan province, primarily, and a little bit in Faryab province.  These are in the hundreds, so the total count of ISIS fighters in the country is well less than 1,000.  So --

Q:  With respect, that's what it was in May, as well (inaudible) --

GEN. NICHOLSON:  Yes, that's right.

(CROSSTALK)

Q:  -- hundred.

GEN. NICHOLSON:  Yes, that's right.  And it's -- and so they're --

(CROSSTALK)

GEN. NICHOLSON:  -- so they haven't been able to regenerate some.  As you -- as you're aware, these fighters are primarily Pakistani, and they come in from Pakistan, from the Orakzai -- they're -- and the Kurram agency is where we've seen these fighters come from.

We've had some fighters from the Uzbeks, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan.  We have seen fighters from the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan change allegiance and join.  So we've been actively recruiting as we've been killing them.  But they -- but, again, they remain below 1,000.  So it's not like there's a fixed number that we -- that we, you know, (want?) --

Q:  You've moved away from the "We're going to wipe them out" to just we're going to keep (inaudible) --

GEN. NICHOLSON:  Well, what we -- the goal this year was to defeat this attempt at a caliphate, to prevent a migration of fighters from Syria.  And so we're on -- we're on that goal.  There is no migration of fighters from Syria.  We have defeated their ability to create a caliphate within which they could attract fighters from Syria.  So that hasn't happened. 

This is extremely important, because this is the false narrative that the Russians are promoting -- is that there are thousands of ISIS fighters in Afghanistan, they're going to spill over into Central Asia; therefore, the Russians justify their support to the Taliban, because the Taliban are fighting ISIS and not the government.  This is a false narrative. 

And so, so this is the point that I think Bill Salvin was referring to:  Defeat the caliphate so that the enemy cannot migrate fighters from Syria.  Now, no, this is going to be a continued effort to track -- hunt -- track down, hunt down and kill these ISIS fighters, because that's what we're doing.  This is the main focus of our CT effort.

Q:  Okay.  And that -- well, actually that segways --

(CROSSTALK)

Q:  -- right into my second question, which is about Russian support --

GEN. NICHOLSON:  Yeah.

Q:  -- for the Taliban.  So we've heard -- we've heard about this, and I wonder if you can perhaps shed a bit more light – Like, are you at the point now where you're prepared to say you’re not seeing any materiel support?  Or is still just conversation about the logistics?  Like, have you seen any actual weaponry coming in?

GEN. NICHOLSON:  Yes.  The -- this -- you've heard -- you know, the secretary general has been asked about this, the secretary of defense.  What I'd say is, we -- you know, we just had the largest delegation of Russians visit Kabul, just last week, that have yet to do so during President Ghani's tenure.  Okay?

And here's where we are with the Russians.  We share common interests in Afghanistan.  We share interests against the terrorism, the terrorists that are present in Afghanistan.  We share interest in counternarcotics in Afghanistan.  We share interest in wanting a peaceful resolution to the conflict.  We want to work together with all of the stakeholders in Afghanistan to achieve these results, and that would include the Russians. 

But helping the Taliban is contributing to the instability that enables these terrorists to take root, so that the assistance that's being provided to the Taliban by the external enablers, and that includes Russia and -- primarily Pakistan, but also Russia and Iran, is undermining the stability and is actually self-destructive behavior by these nations.

Q:  What is the assistance?  You're saying that -- what is the help that they're providing?

GEN. NICHOLSON:  Yes -- I'm not going to get into intelligence about exactly what's going on.  But I'll leave it at that.

Q:  Can I ask a clarifying question?  Going back to your earlier point, very quickly, you talked about the 15,800 number.  Yesterday, Stoltenberg -- Secretary General Stoltenberg said, you know, NATO is going to give 3,000 additional troops, which would bring the support to around 16,000 for R.S.

GEN. NICHOLSON:  He's referring to that number that I mentioned.

Q:  So, if that is met as he says it's expected to be met, that would meet the requirement, basically, that you have?

GEN. NICHOLSON:  Yes, the -- yes.  The number he's using is the one I referred to as the CJSOR.  And he's -- and so that's what we're attempting to fill.  So is that -- is that what you're asking?

Q:  Yes.  So, tomorrow, you expect that to be filled?  Because we're going to be following after his press conference.

GEN. NICHOLSON:  Again, we -- we're -- we've -- you know, I've made the request that it be filled, and I hope it's filled.

STAFF:  And, with that, that's -- this -- the end of the time with the general.  Sir, I don't know if you have any parting remarks.

GEN. NICHOLSON:  No, I appreciate, again -- we'll talk again in a few weeks, and for Thanksgiving, I'll look forward to -- you know, we can do follow-ups on any of these issues that we talked about, and kind of where we stand. 

And I know, again, I'll look forward to more dialogue with you all and my team, with more dialogue over the coming months.  Now that we have a policy, we've got decisions and we're able to move out and engage more, so that we can explain the policy. 

I wanted to say thanks for your coverage of this.  This is extremely important to informing everybody and we have 39 nations in the coalition.  I realized that you reach many of those through your work and I appreciate what you all are doing to tell the story.  Thanks a lot.


 

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