KABUL (Dec. 23, 2016) — Resolute Support Deputy Chief of Staff for Communication Brigadier General Charles Cleveland speaks with 1TV, a local television station, Dec. 17.
Brig. Gen. Charles Cleveland: I would like to start with the recent topic about Mr. Dostum, the first vice president, as you know that recently there is some dispute and discrepancy between Mr. Dostum and also Mr. Ischi. We want to ask you what general Dostum has done to Mr. Ahmad Ischi, was it also shocking for you, too?
Well we are of course, following the news and we’re seeing the same types of report but we really do refer that to the government of Afghanistan. I think as we’ve seen in the press, the government is going to investigate, and they’re going to move forward and beyond that we don’t have any additional information other than simply what we’ve seen in the press.
Reporter: But Mr. Ischi was asked to go to the Bagram base for more treatment and information. We would like to ask what the result was and could this result support his claim?
Cleveland: Well as you can imagine, there is the doctor-patient privilege, which means essentially we don’t discuss that and so the doctor doesn’t even discuss that with us and that’s really between the doctor and the patient. And so as a result we don’t have any updates for you.
Reporter: About the Mr. President Obama recent speech…he told that war has become a part of Afghan life and the United States cannot defeat Taliban. So the question is this, is really - has really the war in Afghanistan become that much (inaudible) and Taliban - does Taliban become defeatable?
Cleveland: Well again, remember…
Reporter: Undefeatable – sorry.
Cleveland: Sure, sure well the United States of course is not at war with the Taliban. So we are here to support as a part of this larger NATO coalition, which again is 39 nations, that are here to support the government of Afghanistan with the train, advise, and assist mission. So our real role here is to help make the security services as strong as they can possibly be and that’s - that’s what we do focus on. But I think also in terms of defeating the Taliban, as the government of Afghanistan has said repeatedly, and we agree with this: there really is no military solution to this. It’s going to have to be reconciliation and it’s going to have to be something that the government of Afghanistan runs themselves and conducts themselves and is able to come to a reconciliation. And ultimately that is the long term plan and we fully support that. Our role in that is making the security services as strong as they can possibly be so that the government of Afghanistan has options and they can choose how and when to negotiate as they see fit.
Reporter: When president Obama says that we cannot defeat Taliban does it mean the Taliban has become undefeatable in Afghanistan?
Cleveland: Well again, that’s really a question – you know I think what the president was really referring to was our role, which is supporting the government of Afghanistan and again, the idea that there is not a military solution. That there’s going to have to be a reconciliation and that’s what the government is really working towards in their longer term plan.
Reporter: Recently Iran and Russia has announced that they confirmed that they have some links with the Taliban inside Afghanistan. So what does it mean that they maintain some connection with the Taliban in Afghanistan? Isn’t it a political success for the Taliban, too?
Cleveland: Well that’s really for others to judge, but what concerns us is that the narrative particularly, as gen Nicholson has said several times, that the Russian narrative that they are engaging with the Taliban and providing them some level of legitimacy is because they are – Taliban are engaging Daesh or IS-K and simply stated, that’s just false. The real work that’s being done against IS-K is being done by the government of Afghanistan and its being done by the United States and as a part our terrorism – counter-terrorism mission. And as Gen. Nicholson has publicly put out before, in 2016, and I think you remember that the United States received authority in January of 2016 to unilaterally target Daesh, but since that time, the Afghans and the US working together have killed over 500 members of Daesh, they killed over 10 of their top leaders to include Hafez Saeed Khan. We’ve reduced their presence in southern Nangahar from what was about 10 districts down to about 2-3 districts right now. And we’ve seen that over and over again as the Afghan security forces have been able to move south and move toward southern Nangahar and be able to clear out some of these Daesh pockets and we will continue to do that. Every single day, we are together, aggressively targeting Daesh, and we are going to continue to do that particularly as we move into the New Year.
Reporter: What is the untold message when Russia and Iran supporting Taliban somehow or by maintaining some connection or having some link to these groups?
Cleveland: Well we think that is not helpful and we think that is not productive because as we said before, every government in this region should be supporting the government of Afghanistan. And again, anything beyond supporting the government of Afghanistan is ultimately not going to be helpful to a solution in Afghanistan in trying to bring about this reconciliation.
Reporter: About the war and peace in Afghanistan, in the upcoming fighting season, do you think there is any possibility that Taliban may capture more geography in Afghanistan?
Cleveland: I think the, as we are – let me take just a step back, so as we moved into the winter, you’ve heard about ‘Operation Shafaq Two.’ It’s this idea of the winter campaign plan and there’s a component on the ground that the big piece is the afghan security forces really regenerating capability going though additional training, really just becoming stronger. And we’re watching that every single day. We’ve brought in additional equipment, they’re beginning to field that equipment, and they’re going through additional training. So as we move into the next fighting season, we’re very confident that the afghan security forces are going to be stronger then than they are today. They just keep getting better and better every day. So they will come up – the government of Afghanistan – will come up with a security campaign plan, just as they did this year, with ‘Operation Shafaq One’ and they’ll execute that and we feel very confident that their focus will likely continue to be this idea of population control. And so I know a lot people focus on - you know - the terrain in this location or that location, but as you know better than I there’re are many parts of Afghanistan that are very remote and desolate. The key, the government of Afghanistan believes, and we agree with them is really being able to secure the population. We saw them do that over and over again this year, even as the Taliban tried to launch these attacks against the provincial capitals, we watched the security services defend those capitals and we know that the Taliban was not successful in achieving their strategic goal. So ultimately as we move into 2017, what we think is that the government will continue to really focus on securing the population, number one, and number two, they’re really going to be much stronger when they start off in the spring than they were when they finish this year.
Reporter: How powerful the Taliban will be in the current fighting season?
Cleveland: The Taliban of course, still is a resilient insurgency, although again, they failed, in all of their strategic goals this year, and we think that they’re suffering from financial issues and we still know that they’re having some leadership issues. As Mullah Habitullah, we know he’s not the most dynamic leader. SO they still have some dissension within the Taliban. And again, we don‘t believe that they’re going to be really any stronger.
Reporter: So what approach, what plans you think that the Afghan National Army should take in case of tackling these threats?
Cleveland: Well again, they can probably tell you better in terms of what they’re going to do and how they’re going got do it. But our recommendation is going to be consistent with what it has been – which is stay on the offense, continue to defend these population centers, but stay on the offense and keep aggressively targeting the Taliban.
Reporter: As you said, we are moving toward the fighting season, and Taliban frequently reject to come and attend to the peace talks of negotiation table. So do you think that the peace approach will work?
Cleveland: Well that obviously is the goal that we’re all working towards and that’s the goal that has got to work. When that’s going to happen, will really be determined by the Afghans, so again our role continues to be to try and support the government as much as we can by making the security services as strong as possible. And we do that by bringing in additional aircraft, and we do that by bringing advisors to help prepare them and train them. And ultimately though the question of peace is going to be something that everybody wants to get to, but only the government of Afghanistan is going to be able to to really coordinate that.
Reporter: And right now Taliban is rejecting to attend the peace negotiation table, so what we can do to make them accept to come to the peace table?
Cleveland: And well again, I think really the government has a better sense of exactly what it’s going to take. But our view is, once the Taliban finally realize that the government and the security services are strong and frankly they are getting stronger, they’re getting more aircraft, they’re getting more capability with their special forces, they’re bringing in additional equipment for their conventional forces and they’re doing more training. So we think as the Taliban recognizes that they are not going to win military - militarily, period, that is just not going to happen, that the government is getting stronger, that they are gonna ultimately hit a point where they recognize that they got to – they’ve go to reconcile.
Reporter: So is US ready to give that aircraft, in case of reaching to this goal?
Cleveland: Well yes in fact, as we’ve discussed before, this year the United States provided 8 of the A-29 attack aircraft. That is a program though that goes over the next couple years. So ultimately the Afghans will have a total of 20 of these A-29 aircraft. We’ve also talked about the MD-530 helicopters and right now the government has 27 of those and what’s happening now though is they’re getting additional capability and so new things can be put on these helicopters are coming in. And we also know the government of India is just about to provide another helicopter as well. And so again what we know is that the security services are getting stronger, and day by day, they’re getting better. And we think that when the Taliban finally realizes that they are not going to win militarily and they finally realize that all they are doing is killing for the sake of killing and bringing misery on the people that they will ultimately want to move toward this reconciliation.
Reporter: Regarding the aircraft, according to some reports there are about 14 broken down aircraft that unfortunately are not in a capacity to rebuild that. What is your plan regarding this issue to help the Afghan mission?
Cleveland: Well as we discussed before and I think has been public also, one of the things that the United States Department of Defense has done is they have – we’ve created essentially an aircraft, we have referred to recapitalization plan. So that would be the potential for bringing in additional new aircraft for the security services and then going through the appropriate training as well to make sure that the pilots can fly ‘em, to making sure the maintenance teams can maintain them, and then also making sure that the commanders on the ground can employ them effectively – and that does take time and the security services have really made some tremendous progress this year because every day we still see A-29s and MD-530s that are taking strikes around Afghanistan and they’re taking the fight to the Taliban.
Reporter: Regarding the soldiers in the warfield, many soldiers have told us and criticized the inefficiency of their leadership, regarding to this criticism, would like to have your point of view about the effectiveness of this leadership, how effective this was and - or how ineffective this was.
Cleveland: Sure, well as General Nicholson has discussed publicly as well, as we move into this winter campaign plan, two big things that we are trying to focus on with our Afghan partners is leadership and it’s also on counter corruption and trying to – to address the issue of corruption.
As it pertains to leadership, I think the senior leadership of the government would be the first to tell you that there are leaders who are not doing what they need to do. And we - we’ve discussed this before.
But at a very low level, if you have young leaders who are not providing food to their soldiers, their policemen. They’re not providing ammunition and fuel, then those soldiers are not going to fight – and understandably so.
We find that in organizations where the leaders are very strong and they take care of their young soldiers and they understand the need of that- those units fight very well. And the Afghan special operations forces are a perfect example of that.
But In the units where the leaders are not good, we find that they don’t fight well, and we do think that that contributed to some of the challenges that the security services had this year.
So as we move through the winter, we will continue to work with the Afghans to really try and identify good, solid leaders and promote them, as well as establish a baseline of training for all young Afghan leaders so that everybody starts understanding the right direction to go.
And so the government we believe, very committed to that right now and we are committed to supporting them with that.
Reporter: You mentioned about the corruption, which is one of the commitments of the national unity government leaders, so about if we come to the commitments of the leaders, do you think they can implement them well?
Well they are beginning to implement them and I think from an expectation standpoint, it’s going to take some time. But when you look at the things that the government has created, most recently the anti-corruption justice center, or the ACJC, that provides a framework, it provides a starting point and they are already beginning to prosecute those who have been accused of being corrupt.
We know that there’s the major crimes task force and they are an integral part of putting that together. And we also know that the security services have inspector generals that are looking at this as well. And it really is something that starts at the top that everyone has got to focus on. So what we think is that the government has made some tremendous steps – steps in really building the framework and now it’s a function of executing and implementing, and we’re already beginning to see that, particularly with the anti-corruption justice center.
Reporter: Please tell us a little more about General Nicholson’s trip to Pakistan?
Reporter: Who he met there and what was the hot topics that he discussed…
Cleveland: Sure. Well as you can imagine, he traveled there on Wednesday of this week, and he met with General Bajwa the new chief of the army staff there. Those discussions of course are private. And so it’s important for them to maintain a good, candid relationship and make sure that their dialogue is private, but in general, General Nicholson did congratulate him on his new position. And then they talked about really matters of mutual interest as it pertains to Afghanistan and Pakistan and making sure overall, collectively, working toward a good stable, secure Afghanistan.
Reporter: Exactly about the Afghanistan security, is there anything that you can share with us?
Cleveland: Well again, those are private discussions and I want to keep those private to respect their ability to have those types of conversations.
Reporter: Under Donald Trump administration here in Afghanistan, will the plan and approach of United States troops here in Afghanistan will change?
Cleveland: We don’t know yet. I would really have to refer you to the transition team. As Generals Nicholson has discussed, the recommendation from the current administration will be to continue the policies that we currently have. So two missions for American troops. Number one is the counter terrorism mission which is this unilateral mission, specifically targeting Al Qaeda and specifically targeting Daesh. We believe it’s a good, solid program as general Nicholson has also said. Today, out of ninety-eight designated terrorist organizations globally, twenty of those operation in the Afghanistan Pakistan region, and therefore, we believe tits important to maintain a counter terrorism presence here to be able to address those threats
The second mission of course are the us troops that are a part of the larger mission Resolute support and the train, advise and assist. And we believe we are absolutely heading in the right direction as part of this 39 nation coalition, and that again is to be able to build up the security forces so they have got the capability themselves to defend their own borders and to address these threats that (inaudible).
Reporter: About the ISIS- ISIS presence in Afghanistan. Are they still – they have some presence in three different parts of Nangahar or they could expand their territory?
Cleveland: Well we know that they have a presence in three – in two to three districts in southern Nangahar, so Achin, Deh Bala, et cetera. We’ve also detected they have a small presence up in Kunar as well. We don’t think that’s because they’re trying to expand, or that they have the capacity to expand, we think that they’re trying to survive. So as all of this pressure has been put on them in southern Nangahar by the Afghan security services and the US counter-terrorism strikes. We think they realize they have to find a new place and so we think there is a small presence up in Kunar, and we’re beginning to try and address that as well. But all told, we think there are probably, approximately 1000 members of Daesh in Afghanistan.
Reporter: What are the exact plans for fighting ISIS in Kunar?
Cleveland: Well in terms of exact plans, of course, those are kinds of things we like to keep those to ourselves so that we don’t give inadvertently the enemy an advantage, but we will continue to aggressively target any place that we find IS-K, anyplace we find Daesh, we are absolutely going to aggressively target.
Reporter: Recently, ISIS could carry on, carry out some attacks in Kabul city, like when they have a demonstration and also two shrines that they targeted. So how serious the presence of ISIS is in Afghanistan right now? As we know they have the ability to conduct such kinds of attacks in the capital of Afghanistan.
Cleveland: I think it’s important to remember first that by conducting a high profile attack – conducting a high profile attack is not a sign of strength, it’s not a sign of support by the population. Really, in many cases, it’s not that difficult to smuggle in some suicide bomber and have that person set themselves off in what was a peaceful demonstration as we saw last July or as we seen in some of the Shia mosque. So you have innocent worshippers in a mosque celebrating, and it’s not that difficult for somebody to sneak in for one person and to set off a suicide vest.
So it’s important we don’t confuse high profile attacks with strength. In fact, many would argue it’s a sign of weakness, because they have lost some much territory in southern Nangahar and they‘ve lost so many people. And so ISIS, or IS-K, is absolutely still a threat, and the government is absolutely still addressing it. Unfortunately, because they clearly have no regard for human life, we’ll probably see more high profile attacks and we all need to be prepared for that. But what the people of Afghanistan should know is that their security services are aggressively targeting Daesh every single day.
Reporter: One of the reasons that Russia is maintaining connection with Taliban in Afghanistan is to fight with ISIS in Afghanistan. So the question is that how serious this concern that they are maintain connection with the Taliban?
Cleveland: Well it’s a concern because legitimizes – it legitimizes the Taliban overtly. And of course various Russian diplomats here in Kabul have been affirming that. But it does legitimize the Taliban and it leads to the suggestion that there are – that there are other options other than the government of Afghanistan and that just not true. Again, the Taliban is not a legitimate organization. We know that they are thugs and we know that they are destroying Afghanistan. And we know that they are bringing violence to the people and that they are killing more civilians than - than anybody else. And so giving them this legitimacy is a challenge and again their overall narrative that Taliban is fighting Daesh is false.
The real truth of it is that the government of Afghanistan, with assistance from US counter-terrorism forces, are targeting ISIL.
Reporter: What will be the consequence of maintaining connection with the Taliban, when Russia and Iran comes and can maintaining connection with the Taliban?
Cleveland: Well, again anything that is not supporting the government of Afghanistan ultimately is not helpful and not positive for the region because the people of Afghanistan have spoken and the people of Afghanistan have overwhelmingly, in every single poll, reject the Taliban. Upwards of 80% do not support the Taliban. And so anything that provides additional support to the Taliban is simply not helpful to resolving this and really trying to end this violence.
Reporter: And is there anything else that you would like to share with us?
Cleveland: Well, again, I think the key thing as we look to moving into the coming year and we look at the accomplishments of the security services. General Nicholson has said it, but I’ll reinforce it, the security services were tested, but they prevailed. And so there were challenges, there’s no doubt, but ultimately the Afghan security services prevailed and they were ability to defeat the Taliban and they tried to – to accomplish their strategic objectives. As we move into the next year, what we know is that the security serves are going to be even stronger and they’re going to be even better prepared and even better ready and they’re going to have more capability and we’re confident that they will aggressively target the Taliban.
Reporter: Thank you so much for this opportunity.