U.S. Department Of Defense Press Briefing by General Nicholson via Teleconference from Kabul, Afghanistan

General John W. Nicholson Jr., Commander, Resolute Support and U.S. Forces-Afghanistan
2 Jun 2018

MAJOR ADRIAN RANKINE-GALLOWAY:  Good morning, ladies and gentlemen.  Today, we are joined by General John W. Nicholson, United States Army.  General Nicholson joins us from Kabul, Afghanistan, where he serves as the commander for NATO's Resolute Support mission and for U.S. Forces Afghanistan.

Due to the general's demanding schedule today, we are limited to approximately 30 minutes.  But this briefing will be the first of many regular operational updates for Resolute Support Mission, and we will be happy to assist you in getting any unanswered outstanding questions you have after the brief.

General Nicholson please provide us any points you have, and then we will proceed to answer some questions.  Over to you, sir.

GENERAL JOHN W. NICHOLSON:  Thanks very much, Adrian.  Good morning.  It's good to be with you all again and give you an update on the situation here in Afghanistan, and in particular the implementation of the South Asia policy.

While we've seen many of you over here in the last six months, the last time we spoke was in November.  A lot has happened, and I'm hoping to put that into some context for you.

The goal of the South Asia Strategy is reconciliation, and, as President Ghani says, it's been a game-changer.  Now, why does he say that?  Within six months of President 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.

His 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.

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.

Then, on 25 April, the Taliban announced their offensive.  And, in the months since, we have seen the violence increase, but still to a level that is 10 percent to 12 percent below the five-year average.

I call this talking and fighting.  And, as the SECDEF has said, violence and progress can coexist, and that's what we're seeing.  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.

But let me go ahead and unpack some of the violence for you, because I realize that these reports come back unfiltered to you.  And let me try to put some of this in context.

With the South Asia policy, we 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.

So the Taliban, to avoid the casualties that come from our airpower, have not sought to gain and hold new ground.  Rather, they have tried to inflict casualties and gain media coverage.  And so, how is this going?

In this period of violence that I outlined, over 80 percent of the enemy attacks on district centers have been defeated by the ANDSF, meaning the Taliban failed to take their target.

And the 20 percent of the attacks where the Taliban were successful in taking five district centers -- all of those district centers have been retaken by the Afghan forces, some of them within hours, and the longest one that any one was in their hands was for 10 days.

The one exception to a remote district center being attacked was the city of Farah.  This attack was conducted by enemy fighters from Helmand who joined local enemy fighters in the province of Farah, and we believe this was an attempt to divert attention away from them in Helmand to relieve pressure on them.

They took advantage of bad weather and collapsed eight police checkpoints to gain entrance to the city.  They then moved on certain targets in the city, to include the prison, to release some of their prisoners, the bank and other government buildings.  The local forces defended in place and prevented the fall of any of those structures that I mentioned.

The key -- the key thing here is, within 18 hours, over 500 commandos and special police were on their way to Farah, and they were moving under the steam, if you will, of the Afghan Air Force and on their own, driving to the city.

So, within 24 hours of the attack, these Afghan forces, supported by the Afghan Air Force and, of course, enabled by us, as well, drove the enemy out of the city and into surrounding districts, where they pursued them for a week.

During this pursuit, a number of these Taliban leaders and fighters returned to Helmand, and, through some great intelligence work by our Marines, led by Brigadier General Ben Watson, they tracked 50 of them to a meeting in Musa Qal’ah and struck them with HIMARS rockets, killing dozens of the enemy leaders.

So where does this leave us at the end of that action?  Afghan forces in control of Farah, and many of the enemy leaders who led the attack are now being pulled out of the rubble in Musa Qal’ah.

Another example of a failed enemy attack occurred today.  Eight terrorists in a captured HMMWV attempted to penetrate the Ministry of Interior headquarters in downtown Kabul.

They were stopped and, in a sharp firefight with special police, all of the enemy were killed, with the exception of one, who was captured.  We did lose one friendly casualty and had a few wounded, but the enemy attack failed and never was able to penetrate MOI headquarters.

So these are just a few examples of the improvements we've seen in the ANDSF fighting abilities, which, of course, is the focus of our investment and one of the key parts of the South Asia strategy -- defeating 80 percent of enemy attacks, retaking any fallen district centers, successfully defending Farah, pursuing and killing the attackers, defeating terrorist attacks.

I know -- I know many of you have also heard of the generational change in leadership that's occurring inside the Ministry of Defense and Interior, with the inherent law.  We'll talk to you about that more in future -- future sessions that we have with you.

As you know, our counterterrorism effort is the other key mission, and our top two targets remain Islamic State Khorasan Province and Al-Qaida.  Islamic State aspires to spread around the country, but currently, they are geographically limited to three areas:  Jowzjan, Nangarhar and Kunar.

Our CT team recently killed the leader of the Jowzjan enclave, Qari Hekmatullah, and many of his fighters, which caused many of them to fade away or to flip sides to the Taliban, severely disrupted.

We are maintaining the pressure on that particular enclave to defeat this group, and we're also maintaining pressure on the group in Nangarhar, with what is called Operation Hamza, which has been going on for the past year and steadily reducing their space and inflicting casualties.

Finally, I want to highlight the peace movement, which has sprung up in the wake of a Taliban attack against civilians in Helmand.  This movement is nationwide.  It's grassroots.  It's not aligned with the government or anyone.  It is calling on all parties to enter into ceasefires and peace talks.

They have held events in over 20 provinces, and, as I speak, a group is now walking from Helmand to Kabul to present their demands to the government.  They are courageous Afghans who reflect the strong desire of the Afghan people for peace.  And this has never happened before in Afghanistan, to my knowledge, over 20 provinces.

So it's important to remember that the Afghans want and deserve peace after so many years of fighting.  They are fighting not only on behalf of their own country, but literally on behalf of all of us by keeping pressure on the terrorists here so we don't have to fight them on our own doorstep.

So we appreciate the sacrifices and the progress of the -- of the Afghans in this fight.  I look forward to taking your questions.  Back to you.

MAJ. RANKINE-GALLOWAY:  Thank you, sir.

We'll start with Bob Burns from A.P.

Q:  Thank you.  General Nicholson, a question or two about the -- the May 24th HIMARS attack that you made reference to.  To understand that a little better, could you be more specific about who these 50 people were?  And what would be the -- what would you describe as the strategic significance of taking out those particular people?

GEN. NICHOLSON:  Yes, thanks, Bob.  The -- the senior Taliban leader who was there was the deputy shadow governor of Helmand, and a number of other leaders underneath him.

Now, we're still assessing the specific names and positions.  But what it looks like it was, was a group of commanders, meeting in part to discuss the operation in Farah that many of them had just participated in.

And they obviously thought they were meeting in relative safely in -- safety in Musa Qal’ah, but our intelligence was able to identify the group and effectively conduct the strike.

So this was mainly leaders from the -- what we call the -- the network in Helmand, the Wain network, led by Abdul Manan, the -- the Taliban shadow governor of Helmand.

These individuals are involved in drug trafficking in Helmand.  That's their main source of finance.  And, in this case, they attempted to -- to again distract us from Helmand by moving over to Farah to bring some pressure there.

We'll provide more details as we learn more about the identities of those who we struck.

Q:  Just a quick follow-up on my second part of my question about -- do you see a broader strategic significance for having to get these people?  Or is this just a one-off kind of event?

GEN. NICHOLSON:  I think -- you know, our -- our goal in Helmand has been to disrupt that network.  As you know, Helmand's been the financial engine of the insurgency.  The Taliban draws 60 percent of their revenue from narcotics, criminal activity.

And this group in Helmand, in particular, are very involved in criminal activity.  They -- they seek to continue instability so they can profit from the drug trade.  So, by striking this group, we -- we do strike at a -- at a group that is involved in drug trafficking.

More importantly, because of the money they derive from drugs, this has been one of the more well-equipped and well-paid Taliban networks.  But, by killing leaders, we will achieve a disruptive effect in Helmand.

I -- I would not call it strategic significance, but it definitely has a significant local significance in terms of the fight in Southern Afghanistan.

MAJ. RANKINE-GALLOWAY:  Next, to Corey Dickstein with Stars and Stripes.

Q:  Thank you, sir.  I want to ask -- the attack this morning on the Interior Ministry -- there was an A.P. photo that came out that appears to show the attacker wearing the old army universal camouflage pattern uniforms.  And it has a -- wearing a 101st Airborne Division patch on his sleeve.

I'd like to know, you know, how often are the enemy able to, you know, get uniforms like that, that might get them easier through security checkpoints or something like that?  And how concerning is that?  Is there anything you guys can do about that?  And we've also reported that ISIS-KP is claiming that attack.  Is that -- is that accurate?

GEN. NICHOLSON:  Yes, thanks for the question.  The -- well, obviously, it's a concern if the enemy is wearing old uniforms that might cause a hesitation or a delay.  In this case, they were in a captured HMMWV.  They were wearing old-style Army uniforms.

The good news is that the guards at the gate -- the Afghan guards immediately recognized these as old uniforms, called on the terrorists to exit the vehicle so they could be checked out, and, at that point, the fighting started.

One of the attackers, I'm told, detonated his suicide vest and actually killed himself and some of his colleagues as they were conducting the attack.  They never gained entrance to the MOD -- or, excuse me, the MOI headquarters, and the Crisis Response Unit 222, which is the special police reaction unit on menace alert status inside the city, quickly reacted and killed all these terrorists before they could gain entrance to the MOI.

So it was a short, sharp fight.  It obviously concerns us that terrorists have captured vehicles and captured uniforms, but, again, I point to the alertness and the quick reaction by the Afghan Security Forces on the scene.  They did exactly what they were supposed to do.  Sadly, one of our Afghan comrades was killed and a few more were wounded, but the attack failed.

Q:  Just a quick follow-up.  I apologize.  Have you seen them use that tactic before, though, commandeering American uniforms to try to launch an attack?  And do you guys -- does it look like this was an ISIS attack?

GEN. NICHOLSON:  We believe it was a Taliban, Haqqani attack, but we're still developing that information.  This tactic tracks with their tactics in the past, but more to follow on that as we learn more about the identity of the attackers.

The -- we have seen uniforms used in the past.  Frankly, it's been well over a year, I think, since we've seen that.  But we'll get back to you with more details.  And we don't -- at this time, do not believe it was an ISIS attack.

MAJ. RANKINE-GALLOWAY:  Wyatt Goolsby from EWTN.

Q:  Thanks so much.  And, General, thanks so much for this.

You had mentioned the violence that the Taliban is carrying out against civilians.  I want to follow up on that, because the State Department yesterday put out a report talking about international religious freedom, highlighting Afghanistan, and actually said the Afghan branch of the Islamic state and the Taliban, quote, "continue to target and kill members of minority religious communities."

Is there any insight you can give about what the Taliban -- exactly how they're targeting civilians and religious minorities, what kind of attacks they're carrying out?

GEN. NICHOLSON:  Yes, thank you for the question.  So the first thing I'd say is that the Taliban, in their public statements, contend that they don't attack civilians and they encourage their leadership not to.  And so they make a point of this every year.

But, of course, as we saw in January -- let me give you an example -- the Taliban had an ambulance packed with explosives that they drove to a hospital and detonated, which killed or wounded well over 100 civilians.

So this is an example of a Taliban-style attack:  using an ambulance to gain entrance to a hospital, and then detonating it next to a hospital.  So this is the nature of the violence.

Another example would be -- I mentioned the suicide attack at a wrestling match in Helmand that precipitated the peace movement -- again, going into a sporting event, not a security event at all, and killing locals.  And this brought out an enormous reaction by the locals.

Now, I wouldn't say that either one of these two attacks, as an example, were religious or sectarian in nature.  Most of the sectarian-style attacks we've seen in Afghanistan have been conducted by ISIS-K, and the Islamic State Khorasan has been focused on the Shia population.  And so we've seen indiscriminate bombing of voter registration sites, religious gatherings, et cetera.


And so that's our principle concern when it comes to that here.  Although it's not unprecedented -- and, of course, we all know, from the days of the Taliban, some of the acts they took against the Shia minorities were horrendous, to include, for example, the destruction of the cultural heritage -- blowing up the Buddhists and fighting many Shia in those days. 

So -- but, recently, I'd say it's -- ISIS-K has come to the fore as the ones who have been principally focused on sectarian violence against another religious group.

Q:  Thank you very much.

MAJ. RANKINE-GALLOWAY:  Sylvie Lanteaume with AFP.

Q:  General, Hello.  Thank you for doing that.

I would like to go back to the report of the -- the recent report of the SIGAR about the billions of dollars that have been wasted in Afghanistan in the last few years.

And he said especially that, because the reconstruction effort or stabilization effort was lead by the military, it was not -- it overestimated its ability to reform the government institution.

I wanted to know if you agree with that assessment and if -- some -- if you changed the way the stabilization funds are used now.

GEN. NICHOLSON:  Yes, thank you for the question.  So we welcome the SIGAR reports.  They really help us to see ourselves and help us to continually improve how we do business.  This particular report on stabilization primarily covered the period of counterinsurgency, which was the period of ISAF.

This mission ended in 2014.  And what you saw at that time was many of the resources that have been given to the military under the counterinsurgency campaign were removed at that time.

So, now that we are in a period of time called "train, advise, assist" -- and, since I've been the commander, we've been only in that role -- we no longer are involved in the large scale projects that were mentioned in the SIGAR report on stabilization.

I think it's fair to say that we need to learn from this period.  We need to look at how we make the best use of resources to move forward.  It's important to note, though, that, in the 17 years of this war, there have been tremendous strides in social progress inside Afghanistan:  for example, health care, women's education, life expectancy.

Again, access to health care has reduced some of the infant mortality and maternal mortality.  Clean water, polio vaccinations -- all of this has resulted in an increase in life expectancy in Afghanistan from the early 40s, to almost 60 years old.

What -- what we do by improving the living conditions of the Afghan people, ideally, is reduce the potential for recruitment into terrorist groups because their -- their stake in society, their life, is better.

That is not the -- that -- that, however, is not the purpose of the Resolute Support mission, and that is not the purpose of the South Asia policy.  We are here, focused on providing training, advice, and assist to the Afghan forces and doing a counterterrorism mission to bring this war to a peaceful conclusion.

The final point I'd say is that there are many, many donors here in Afghanistan that are focused on the areas that you've mentioned.  So, at the Brussels donor conference in 2015, over $15 billion in intents to pledge were made by members of the international community, and that these donations are going to assist in many of the areas.  But the military is no longer in this business in Afghanistan.

Q:  If I can follow up, the -- the report also say that corruption was aggravated by the fact that money was spent in regions where the military left afterwards -- that military left.  So do you -- do you think that corruption is less invasive now?

GEN. NICHOLSON:  Ma'am, I would ask to be able to examine that correction.  I'm not familiar with that specific issue that you raise there, but I would be happy to take a look at it and provide you a response later, once I've had a chance to see the specifics of that -- of that particular citation.

MAJ. RANKINE-GALLOWAY:  All right.  Next, to Phil Stewart with Reuters.

Q:  Hi, General.  Thank you, sir, for talking to us.

I want to follow up on your -- your remarks about talking and fighting and the peace movement.  First of all, how much talking is going on right now that you're aware of?

And, on the peace movement, you've mentioned their calls for a ceasefire.  What would be the impact on your ability to pressure the Taliban and a -- if these calls for ceasefire actually gain some momentum?  Would that be detrimental to your campaign?

And I still had one other follow-up question on something you said.

GEN. NICHOLSON:  Thank you.  The -- first off, on talking and fighting, again, common to many -- the stages of many conflicts -- Colombia's the most recent example where -- where, as the -- as the negotiating teams from each side were meeting -- I should point out they met in secret.  This is how they were able to advance the talks.

So I think 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.  So you see mid-level, senior-level Taliban leaders engaging with Afghans.

So -- so let me give you a few examples without naming names, because, again, part of the ability to advance this is it's conducted in a -- in a confidential manner.

But we see outreach from Taliban fighters who are -- who are -- who are tired of fighting, who are concerned about their -- the effect of this continued fighting on their country.

We've seen some public calls by Taliban leaders.  For example, a Taliban judge in Northern Afghanistan called on the Taliban leadership to accept President Ghani's peace offer.

We've seen comments from -- you know, the -- some -- some former Taliban members, who are no longer actively part, calling on this.  But -- but the most significant are the -- are the dialogue that's occurring between various stakeholders.

And what I mean is you have international governments; international organizations; external nations; internal Afghan leaders, both in and out of government; all of whom are engaged in -- to varying degrees of dialogue with either those who work with the Taliban or actually some of the Taliban leaders themselves.

And I think this explains why we have never seen a formal response to President Ghani's peace offer -- is that there is -- there is a robust dialogue going on inside the Taliban.  I would also refer you to the open letter from the Taliban to America, and President Ghani's peace offer.

When you lay these documents side by side, you'll find there's -- there's a few key differences, but there's many points of intersection.  And so there -- this is what, you know, leads me to the conclusion that there's tremendous potential to advance the reconciliation dialogue. 

And -- 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.

Q:  And -- and, sorry, on the -- on the ceasefire?  And then I -- I want to double check something you said on the enemy-initiated violence, but, on the -- how would a ceasefire affect you?

GEN. NICHOLSON:  Yes.  Yes, so -- well, first off, these -- these -- a proposal, for example, came from the peace movement for this.  First and foremost, these are questions for the Afghan government to consider.

So, remembering we're here in our NATO role and -- and U.S. is part of that -- training, advising, and assisting the Afghans -- so the NATO mission is a non-combat mission.  So, that -- from that perspective, that would not have an impact on that part of our mission.

Okay.  Now, in terms of the combat enabling of the Afghan forces that we do under our U.S. authorities that would have an impact there.  But, again, that would be a policy decision that our government would have to consider on -- on the potential benefits.  Again, the end state of the policy is to achieve a reconciliation.

So I think, again, our -- our government would need to consider, would this move us forward towards that end?  And I think that would be the key consideration, less so than the effect on our "train, advise, assist" mission.

Now, in our counterterrorism mission, we're focused on groups other than the Taliban.  So that would be the -- the key decision point there.  Again, not wanting to get in front of my political leadership -- this would be a decision taken at those levels to look at the -- the impact on -- on our range of missions.

Q:  Let me double check you really quick.  You said enemy-initiated violence was 30 percent below the five-year average.  We had been told in previous years that there was no longer reliable data on enemy-initiated attacks because of the inability -- the lower -- smaller U.S. intelligence footprint in Afghanistan.

How confident are you on the -- on these numbers, especially the five-year trend?  And -- and are these -- are these based on Afghan statistics, or are these based on your own intelligence collection?  Thank you.

GEN. NICHOLSON:  Yes, thanks for the question.

So this data goes back to 2013.  As you know, we've been collecting it for years.  So the -- the data -- much of this is Afghan-reported, coming to us.  So -- so there -- there is a -- you know, standard deviation is probably increased.

The thing that's significant, though, is the -- the fact that it was 30 percent is statistically significant.  And so, if -- if this were a matter of a few percentage points, I'd have less confidence.

But, when we talk in percentages like the current 10 to 12 percent and the previous 30 percent that we saw from February to April, I -- I believe it is significant.  And I -- and I do believe it was lower, based on that assessment.

MAJ. RANKINE-GALLOWAY:  All right, sir, so we are at 11:28.  I know you have a 30-minute stop.  So I'd like to do 3 more questions, but no follow-ups, please.

So we'll go to Tara Copp, Military Times.

Q:  Thank you for doing this, General.  As your command in Afghanistan nears a close, I wanted to see if you would be a little more reflective with us and answer the question of, you know, why should the U.S. continue to send its sons and daughters to Afghanistan?  Why should the U.S. military stay?

GEN. NICHOLSON:  Yes.  Thanks for the question.  It's really important, and it's been a long war.  But I would note that, in that time, our country has not been attacked from Afghanistan.  Remember that 21 designated terrorist organizations exist in this region.

ISIS-K, for example, did not exist in this region until about 2014, 2015, and -- and it -- it primarily was created by members of other groups.  So the fact -- when you have a large number of groups in close proximity, with -- with a significant population to recruit from -- means that 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.  And so the two principal groups that we're concerned about there are Al-Qaida and Islamic State.  Thanks to the great work by our counterterrorism forces, we have devastated it -- Al-Qaida, but they still exist.

Islamic State has ambitions.  Now, again, because of great work by our CT forces, we've been able to keep pressure on them.  But it's too soon to take the pressure off.

If we are able to achieve a reconciliation through the South Asia strategy -- and, again, as I've outlined tonight, we're taking positive steps in that direction -- and we -- and we achieve a degree -- an increased degree of stability here -- again, 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, and that's in the benefit of our nation and all the nations of the coalition.

And, on that last point, I'd say this is not just an American mission.  There are 39 nations here.  In fact, we have two more that have recently offered to join:  UAE and Qatar.

And so these nations not only contribute troops; they contribute financially and they bring the legitimacy of a 39-nation coalition to keep pressure on these terrorist groups.

So 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.  And -- and we have been successful in protecting our homeland from attacks emanating from this region, ever since 9/11.

Q:  Just a real quick-follow up, you know, you -- you --

MAJ. RANKINE-GALLOWAY:  (inaudible) --

(CROSSTALK)

Q:  -- 17-year conflict, to just -- from your experience on the ground there, what -- what is the primary role, then, for the U.S.?  And do you see this as really just a -- a really long-term presence to continue to keep that terrorism threat at bay from U.S. homeland?

GEN. NICHOLSON:  Well, we have a global counterterrorism mission, of course, that we do to protect our homeland.  I think the -- the key difference here in Afghanistan is we have a tremendous partner in the Afghan people.

And we -- you've heard the phrase "by, with and through."  Well, nowhere is that more apparent than here in Afghanistan.  These Afghan counterterrorist forces are the best in the region.

I mean, the Afghan Air Force -- they -- they 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.

So -- so these people want to defend their own country.  They -- 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.

And, no, I -- I think that, once we get to -- 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 -- you know, we -- that will be the time to re-assess our presence.

MAJ. RANKINE-GALLOWAY:  All right, now we have time for one more, so the last one will go to Cami McCormick.

Q:  Thanks, General.

Back in March, you talked about securing, hardening Kabul with more U.S. advisers, with special operations and the -- and the Afghan police, re-training them and refocusing on the gates, stopping explosives coming into the city.

Can you give us an update on how that's going and -- and what's ahead, what you're still working on?

GEN. NICHOLSON:  Yes, thank -- yes, thank you for the question -- very important.  So, remembering that Kabul's a city of 5 million, 15 years ago, it was about 500,000.  So it exploded, literally, growing exponentially in size.  And, unfortunately, you know, city planning, security, et cetera, did not keep pace with the exponential growth.

Now -- now let -- let me just give you a few quick metrics.  You know, we're approaching the one year anniversary of the mega-VBIED that struck in Kabul on 31 May 2017 that caused over 600 casualties.

You'll note that, in the year since then, we have not had another mega-VBIED inside this city, and, in fact, we've had -- had a slight reduction in the number of ehicle-borne IEDs.

I credit this to the Afghan Security Forces, who -- who have done things like physical security measures, improved checkpoints, more thorough searches.

Has this caused disruptions in the city?  Yes, in terms of traffic flows and all that.  And they're -- and the government's working hard to manage that.  But what it's meant -- it's been tougher for the enemy to penetrate the city with vehicle-borne IEDs.

Now, what we've seen, also, is a reduction in Taliban and Haqqani activity, and this is because of the very focused counterterrorism effort on the networks that attack Kabul City.

Now, this has been worked on by Afghan counterterrorism forces, working with our forces, that has reduced the number of Taliban and Haqqani attacks.  Unfortunately, some of that reduction has been made up by the ISIS-K attacks.

The ISIS-K attacks are different in nature.  They tend to be person-borne suicide vests, so a suicide bomber.  They're very indiscriminate in terms of who they attack.  As I mentioned before, they're sectarian in nature, so we see attacks on places of religious worship, Shia worship, voter registration in Shia areas, etc.

So this -- the -- this uptick in ISIS-K attacks has to some extent offset the reduction, and -- and -- because of the CT effort and the effectiveness or improved effectiveness of the ANDSF against Taliban and Haqqani.

We still have a long way to go, but we're encouraged by the fact that we have seen that reduction of vehicle-borne IEDs.  In particular around the diplomatic and government zone, the security has improved because of these physical security measures and so forth.

We're also seeing increasing professionalism amongst the Afghan police forces in the city.  The army, now, is responsible for the gates around the city, and all of the district commanders inside the city for the police have been replaced with new commanders who are going through retraining.

The minister of interior has started a model police district program inside the city and will start, one district at a time, improving the professionalism, competence, training, equipping, etc., of the police.  So we're seeing a real concerted effort on the part of our Afghan partners to achieve improvements.

I also want to flag and compliment our allies in this regard.  So inside the city, we have Train Advise Assist Command-Capital, which is run by our Turkish allies.  They have brought in a robust police advising team to help work with the police.  They also help advise the 111th Capital Division.

We have put SFAB teams -- Security Force Assistant Brigade -- specially trained Army advisers inside the city, working with these units to improve them.

We also have a force called the Kabul Security Force, which is led by our British allies, and we also have other troops inside there -- Danes, Americans, etc.  All of these troops are contributing to help and to improve the Kabul security.

And we're also getting help from JIEDDO, which is the U.S. DOD organization which helps with counter-IED and other force protection measures.  So it's a full-court press to improve security in Kabul.  And we are seeing some improvements, but, again, a lot of work to do and we're staying on it.

MAJ. RANKINE-GALLOWAY:  Thank you very much, General.  Do you have any closing words for the group?

GEN. NICHOLSON:  Now, listen, I wanted to extend an invitation to all of you to come out again.  I know many of you have traveled here since we last talked in November.  We look forward to hosting you again.  We look forward to the weekly engagements.  We're going to bring in different subject matter experts to talk on different subjects.

If you've got particular areas of interest, please let us know, and we look forward to either, you know, addressing those in these weekly sessions, or getting back to you one-on-one to cover down on things.

So, again, thanks for the coverage.  Thanks for -- and thanks for joining us today.


MAJ. RANKINE-GALLOWAY:  Thank you, sir.  Ladies and gentlemen, have a great day.

 

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