NATO Defense Ministerial Press Briefing by General Nicholson in Brussels, Belgium

Gen. John Nicholson, Resolute Support commander answers media questions during the Defense Ministerial, June 7, at NATO headquarters in Brussels.
8 Jun 2018

Oana Lungescu [NATO Spokesperson]: Good afternoon. I'm very pleased to have General Nicholson to brief you today. He needs no introduction from me, but he will start with his introduction and then he'll be happy to take your questions. General?

General John Nicholson [NATO Resolute Support Mission Commander]: Thanks very much, Oana. Well, good afternoon everyone. It's good to be with you again and give you an update on the situation in Afghanistan. Before I begin, I want to recognise the contributions of soon to be 41 troop-contributing nations in Afghanistan. It's an honour to command such a committed force. More importantly, I want to recognise the strength of the Afghan people and that of the Afghan security forces. Their service and sacrifice, along with the resolute international commitment led by NATO and the US's South Asia strategy have led to where we are today.

And as I'm sure you're all aware by now, the President of Afghanistan has made another bold step towards peace and stability in Afghanistan, with his ceasefire announcement. This announcement was widely endorsed, including by NATO, the European Union, the United Nations, the US Department of State, and others. We know that the Taliban are still considering this, but we also continue to see additional endorsements from around the world roll in.

I therefore want to put all this in context and explain what it means moving forward. The combination of the Warsaw Summit in 2016, followed by President Ghani's security roadmap and President Trump's South Asia Policy, have all led to progress in Afghanistan. As President Ghani says, the US South Asia policy has been a game changer. The objective of this strategy is reconciliation and the strategy is working. Within six months of President Trump's announcement of the South Asia policy, we had the elements of a peace offer outlined by the Taliban in an open letter to the American people. Two weeks later, there was a formal peace offer by His Excellency President of Afghanistan to the Taliban. His proposal was unanimously endorsed by the international community at the Kabul Peace Process Conference and again at the Tashkent Conference.

At the same time, interestingly, we saw levels of violence begin to drop. Between February, when the peace offers were made, and April, when the Taliban announced their offensive, levels of enemy initiated violence were 30% below the five-year average. And in the month or so since the Taliban announced their offensive at the end of April, violence has increased, but it is still below the five-year average. That means to me that we are in a period of fighting and talking. And as Secretary Mattis said to you not too long ago, violence and progress can co-exist. We have seen this in other conflicts, such as in Colombia or even Northern Ireland. We are seeing it in Afghanistan.

Now, let me put the violence in context. This year, for the first time, the Afghan security forces conducted continuous offensive operations in all six core areas throughout the winter. When the Taliban began their attacks on district centres, the ANDSF successfully repelled 80% of these attacks. And the attacks that were successful, about 20% of the time, five district centres were taken during this period; all five were recaptured by the Afghan security forces within hours or days. The one exception to attacks on remote district centres was the one on the city of Farah, provincial capital in South West Afghanistan. Within 18 hours of the beginning of this attack, 500 Afghan commandos and special police were on their way to Farah and they were doing it by Afghan means. So, this included the Afghan air force moving them and their armoured vehicles. Within 24 hours after the attack, these forces were on the ground in Farah and drove the Taliban out of the city and then pursued them into the surrounding districts for the next week.

During this pursuit, many of the Taliban leaders and fighters returned to their bases in Helmand. We followed them back there and struck their leadership meetings in Helmand, killing dozens of their leaders. So, the end result of that whole episode was that Farah is under control of the Afghan government within 24 to 36 hours, the enemy leaders who conducted the attack, many were killed, and the networks that did it were severely disrupted.

So, another example of the increased performance of the Afghan security forces occurred on 30th of May. Ten terrorists attempted to penetrate the Ministry of Interior building in Kabul. They were identified and stopped at the gate that they attempted to get in. All but one were killed in a firefight with Afghan security forces, led by Crisis Response Unit 222, and they never gained entry to their objective. Again, another enemy failure.

Now, these successes by the Afghan security forces are just a few examples of the improvements we have seen in the Afghan security fighting abilities. And of course, this is the focus of our international effort in Afghanistan. So, the NATO led train, advise and assist mission, much like the US South Asia strategy, is working in Afghanistan. The Taliban are no longer attempting to gain new ground. Rather, they are trying to inflict casualties and gain media attention. They are fighting in order to strengthen their bargaining position.

Now, as many of you all know, on 4th June up to 3,000 of Afghan's most senior religious scholars held a meeting in Kabul, a loya jirga, and issued a religious decree, or fatwa. In it, they refuted the religious justification used by the Taliban for their war in Afghanistan. They specifically rejected the religious justification for suicide attacks and terrorist attacks. They called on all the parties in the war, the government and the Taliban, to come to peace. And they also requested a ceasefire up through Eid al-Fitr. That evening, President Ghani accepted the fatwa and the clerics call for a ceasefire. And yesterday he announced the ceasefire. The ceasefire applies to the Taliban. Afghan and US forces will intensify their efforts against ISIS-K, al Qaeda and other international terrorist networks.

Before I finish here, I want to shift to one other topic. So, we in the international community want to applaud the important efforts of the many brave Afghan citizens who are advocating for peace. These peace activists include young people, women, and civil society leaders across the country. These efforts are not aligned with the Taliban, they are not aligned with the government and they are not aligned with the Coalition. They call on all of us equally in the cause of peace. And to these peace advocates I say, we deeply respect your courage. Our willingness to participate in the ceasefire is strengthened because of your example, because you are showing the world that the noble Afghan people truly want peace.

Thank you and I'll take your questions.

Oana Lungescu [NATO Spokesperson]: OK. We'll go to 1TV, second row.

Question [1TV]: Thank you very much, General. My question is regarding the security realities at the moment in Afghanistan and the uncertainty toward the political solution for Afghanistan. We have seen the most generous offer from side of President Ghani recently to the Taliban, but the Taliban continuously rejected the peace offers of the Afghan government. On the other hand, reality shows that militarily it has been tough to defeat the Taliban in the last 15 years. What is going to be the best solution for the current dilemma, in your perspective? Thank you.

General John Nicholson [NATO Resolute Support Mission Commander]: Thank you for your question. I think the US South Asia policy announced by President Trump is actually important to consider for many of the key points. It addresses some of the issues that you raised. So, the US South Asia policy that he announced in August specifically addresses this issue of external enablement. So, no insurgency that enjoys external enablement can be defeated easily. And of course the Taliban have enjoyed external sanctuaries and support for many, many years.

I think frankly one of the other issues is that we in the international community stated that we were leaving. And so, when the enemy knew that we had planned on departing, that we were winding up our mission, as we said we were, then there was no incentive to engage in the peace process. So, all this changed about nine or ten months ago, when the US South Asia policy was announced by the President. And this came on the heels on the Warsaw Summit. So, I think this has changed the context for the conversation about peace. So, we’ve gone from a position where we in the international community said that we were departing and this emboldened the enemy to believe that all they had to do was wait us out. Unfortunately, it also may have encouraged hedging behaviours by some of the neighbours, who we know have then increasingly supported the Taliban. But now, with President Trump's announcement of the South Asia policy, we have said we're on a conditioned based mission and indeed NATO has said this as well at the Warsaw Summit. So, we've said we're here on a conditions basis, not a time basis, we’re directly addressing external enablement, and the purpose of the entire policy is a peaceful reconciliation to the conflict. And I would reiterate that this is in everyone's interest, even the neighbours and those who enable the Taliban, have an interest in counter-terrorism, counter-narcotics and stability in Afghanistan. Stability in Afghanistan will prevent the spread of terrorism, it will reduce migrancy into Europe. It is in everyone's benefit.

So, I would say that what we’re doing in the Coalition, and in the United States with respect to the South Asia policy, is indeed in the interests of everyone in the region. And things have changed now, just ten months ago, as I explained, with respect to this dialogue about peace. Thank you.

Oana Lungescu [NATO Spokesperson]: Mitra TV in the first row. Yeah?

Question [Mitra TV]: Mr General, I have two questions. The first one is about, you know there is a perception in Afghanistan that normally the international troops who are in Afghanistan, they are stressing more on defensive capabilities on the Afghan troops. For example, the perception is that the Afghan forces, the Afghan security forces, the police, they are only there to protect the people, not to attack the Taliban. So, don’t you think more needs to be done actually to attack them, rather than defend the people? And then the second question is, you know, regarding the US South Asia strategy. How far do you think we have come, bearing in mind that people see more bloodshed, you know, war, and of course the Taliban getting more aggressive in Afghanistan?

General John Nicholson [NATO Resolute Support Mission Commander]: Yeah, let me answer the second one first. I think it's… given that President Trump announced the South Asia policy on the 21st August 2017, within six months we had an open letter by the Taliban to the American people, which outlined some of their principles of a negotiated conclusion of the war. And two weeks later you had a peace offer by President Ghani. I don’t think that these would have occurred, especially the letter from the Taliban, had it not been for the change in the South Asia policy, on top of the NATO Warsaw declaration, where 39 nations in the Coalition committed to four more years of support to Afghanistan. So, these sent very strong signals to the enemy and to those who support them that they could not wait us out. That instead of our previous policy of leaving based on a timeline, we were going to leave based on conditions.

Moving to your first point; after the Warsaw Summit in 2016, President Ghani looked at consulting with his security ministers and examined what the Afghan security forces needed to be able to do going forward. And in fact, the purpose of this was to drive the enemy to reconciliation. In order to do that, the army and the security forces needed more offensive capability. So, at this time, he made the decision to double the size of the special forces and these, as you know, are the forces that take the offensive against the enemy.

In 2016, this number of companies that we had was about 30. But by next year, there will be over 60 tolays, 60 companies of commandos. There will also be a significant increase in the size of the air force. Now, last year in 2017, the Afghan air force really began to come into its own and we saw that, between the attack helicopters and the A29s, about half of the strikes being done in the country… air strikes were being done by the Afghan air force. This year, in 2018, we've seen the air force begin to drop laser-guided bombs. This year, in 2018, we've seen the first Black Hawk pilots, Afghan Black Hawk pilots trained and flying combat missions. So, we’re beginning to see the effects of the decisions that President Ghani made in 2016, begin to result in new capabilities in the field.

Now, this year, the security forces will be very focused on election security. So, this is a principle focus of what they're doing. But as we go into next year and additional commandos take the field, remembering 4,000 new commanders are on the battlefield this year and that number will double again next year, so it'll be another 5,000 next year on the field, and more aircraft. So, the offensive capability that you're talking about to take the fight to enemy is going to increase in the coming year and that is what's going to enable the Afghan army to begin doing what you suggest.

Oana Lungescu [NATO Spokesperson]: OK, we’ll go to Geo TV. Gentleman in the blue shirt in the middle.

Question [Geo TV]: Khalid Hameed Farooqi from Geo Television News, Pakistan and Gen Group of Newspaper. General, we understand who you are attributing that activity of sanctuary, to neighbours in particular. General Bajwa visited Kabul recently and still in your talk seems there is some sort of difference on sanctuaries are going on. Kabul government offered Taliban a peace deal and they are rejecting. What is the role of Pakistan at the moment in that offer? Are you approaching Pakistan to help them to bring Taliban to the negotiating table?

General John Nicholson [NATO Resolute Support Mission Commander]: Thank you for the question. And as you know, as part of the South Asia policy this was one of the principle points, was to reduce external enablement. And I don’t need to repeat the statements that President Trump has said, that our Vice President has said, Vice President Pence, and the Secretaries of State and Defence and all the US leaders, because those statements are a matter of record. What we are very encouraged by is the improving bilateral relationship between Afghanistan and Pakistan. So, primary… Prime Minister Abbasi has visited Afghanistan twice and we know Chief of Army Staff Bajwa has also visited Afghanistan. We are encouraged by what they are saying, that they are committed to peace in Afghanistan. And we certainly wish to see that come to fruition. We believe that the Pakistan military and Pakistan are in a unique position to influence the Taliban in terms of their pursuit of the peace process, and we hope to see this translate into participation by the Taliban in the peace process.

So, the very generous offer by His Excellency President Ghani to the Taliban has yet to be satisfactorily answered in that respect, so we hope to see Taliban… or the Pakistan play a positive role in that. And again, it is in Pakistan's interest as well as Afghanistan's interest, for this war to be brought to a peaceful conclusion.

The recent visit by Minister Atmar to Pakistan and the work that’s being done on the Afghanistan-Pakistan agreement is extremely positive. And as you all know, this particular document addresses many issues of joint concern to both countries, to include refugee returns, border security, as well as peace and reconciliation, and importantly, economic issues. So, if we can improve the trade and economic activity between the two countries, Afghanistan becomes a conduit for power and goods from Central Asia to make their way to Pakistan. All of these things are in the interest of Pakistan.

The final thing I would say is that, with the strong international commitment to Afghanistan, we don’t believe that Afghanistan will be used as a launching point for attacks against Pakistan. And the international community is committed to helping in that regard. Thank you.

Oana Lungescu [NATO Spokesperson]: OK. Salam Watandar. Gentleman over there, yeah.

Question [Salam Watandar]: Thank you very much for the opportunity and this is Nasir Maimanagy from Salam Watandar and I have two questions. The first one is on peace and reconciliation. We know that this is not the first time that these efforts are being undertaken. When, in one of the peace negotiation rounds, the discussion of, you know, bringing Tali… sorry, bringing Mullah Omar… or having Mullah Omar's approval came on the table. That’s when Pakistan announced that Mullah Omar was dead for about two years. And so what confidence is there that there is a specific group, there are specific individuals that the Afghan government and possibly the international community is in discussions with on peace and reconciliation on Afghanistan?

The second question is on… you know, in recent attacks we've seen that the Taliban have been able to capture a lot of heavy equipment from the Afghan forces, a number of Humvees, I don’t know how many tanks. Do you have a specific number and does the afghan government have a specific number of Humvees that the Taliban own now? And how concerning is it to the international community, to NATO and to the Afghan government? Because we’ve seen that they’ve used some of the Humvees as weapons, you know, packed them with explosives and blown up bases. Thank you.

General John Nicholson [NATO Resolute Support Mission Commander]: Right, thank you. I'll answer the second question first. So, we are concerned about this and frankly, this loss of equipment typically occurs at isolated checkpoints that are then overrun by the Taliban. So, we’ve consulted closely with our Afghan security force colleagues to encourage them to reduce the number of checkpoints, to consolidate these positions, to make them stronger and to be more offensive in their operations. And so this is something that we're working closely with our Afghan colleagues on. I know the challenge in many cases is that the communities inside Afghanistan want these checkpoints, to protect the entrances to the communities and so forth. So, there is a tension there between what is the best tactic militarily and what are the needs of the society. And so this is the tension that creates these situations where isolated checkpoints can be overrun by the Taliban. And that’s where they're getting these vehicles and equipment, when they overrun isolated checkpoints.

So, what we're seeing is, in many cases, is a better cooperation… I use the example of Helmand, where you know General Hamidzai working closely with the police and the NDS down there, have created a much better system of interlocking checkpoints. They also have where police and army support one another, where we have pre-planned fires, you know, in the… at night time, when the enemy likes to attack these checkpoints. We have pre-planned illumination and other ways that they can defend themselves better. And also better leadership and a better defensive posture at these checkpoints is really critical. So, I think the checkpoint reduction and hardening the checkpoints is going to be one of the keys to preventing the capture of equipment. If you look at… on the other side of the scale, the commandos seldom, if ever, lose a battle, much less any of their equipment. And why is this? Because they're on the offensive, because they're highly trained, they're properly led, they have an offensive spirit and they get after the enemy. So, we are… as things like the inherent law are implemented and leaders are changed inside the Afghan army, and they're younger, and so with the changes in the inherent law this year, the average age of the generals and colonels in the Afghan army is going to do down by ten years. OK, now as you get younger and more energetic commanders in the field, we think we’re going to see greater aggressiveness and offensive action on the part of the regular army formations. And what we'd like to see is this get to the same level as the commandos. So, this is something the army is working on. And again, these reforms that are taking place that President Ghani has directed, are the things that are going to enable this to happen.

To your first question; I think yes, there were attempts at negotiation in the past, but again, the international community said they were leaving. So, even when the [inaudible] talks occurred that you referred to earlier, when it was revealed that Mullah Omar was deceased, the policy of the international community at that time was that we were going to be departing Afghanistan. And I think this one fact sent the strongest possible signal to the enemy that all they had to do was wait us out. And so I think that has fundamentally changed. So, by saying we're here on a conditions basis, by saying that it's no longer a time based withdraw, and the universal international support for President Ghani's peace offer, which again there had never been a peace offer of this type on the table before, I think these things are different than the past.

What was encouraging about that initiative that you mentioned before was, we were approaching a moment where Taliban and Afghan government representatives would sit down in the same room, and so this was encouraging. And so we hope to find a way to get back to that so we can move this process forward. Thank you.

Oana Lungescu [NATO Spokesperson]: OK, we'll go to NPR / Deutsche-Welle.

Question [NPR / Deutsche-Welle]: This is the first time that I've… sorry, here I am. You seem to be quite critical of this decision to leave…

General John Nicholson [NATO Resolute Support Mission Commander]: I didn’t hear the first part.

Question [NPR / Deutsche-Welle]: Yeah, you seem to be quite critical of the decision to announce the pull out, the deadline. I'm wondering if you have any other thoughts as you are going to be wrapping up your posting in Afghanistan. Had you hoped that the country would be in a better place than it will be when you leave? What did you envision when you came in?

General John Nicholson [NATO Resolute Support Mission Commander]: Yeah, well the NATO conditions based approach was the… is the best military advice of the NATO Coalition. This advice began as early as 2015 and the idea was that when you're fighting a conflict, you don’t tell the enemy when you're leaving. And if you tell that to the enemy, then they know all they have to do is survive until that moment and so there's no incentive to engage in a reconciliation or a peace process. So yeah, that… from a military standpoint, in terms of military logic, that decision undermined the ability to advance the peace process. And what I'm pointing out is the difference now, with President Trump's South Asia policy, is that we have said we are on a conditions basis. At the Warsaw Summit in 2016, the entire Coalition said we were adopting a conditions based approach.

So, as… you’ve heard that phrase, "War is an extension of politics", so the policy matters. The policy matters. And so, the policy that says you're on a conditions based, not a time based approach, fundamentally changes the calculus of the enemy when it comes to determining whether they even need to participate in a peace process or just stall for time. And so that decision was key to changing the calculus of the enemy and I think that’s why we've seen, within six months of that decision, peace offers being discussed from both sides. And so that was a fundamental change and extremely important in terms of the conduct of the campaign.

Question [NPR / Deutsche-Welle]: And sorry, my second question; any other lookback since it's been announced that you are moving on?

General John Nicholson [NATO Resolute Support Mission Commander]: I'll wait for any retrospective until, you know, when I'm ready to move on a few months from now.

Question [NPR / Deutsche-Welle]: [Good] to see you, so…

General John Nicholson [NATO Resolute Support Mission Commander]: Thank you very much. I'll have a chance to chat later. Thanks.

Oana Lungescu [NATO Spokesperson]: OK, we'll go to the lady in the front row.

Question [Reuters]: Anna Shari from Reuters Media Network from Iraq. My question is about Syria. According to the roadmap between USA and Turkey, when will SDF withdraw from Manbij? This is important for me to know, please.

General John Nicholson [NATO Resolute Support Mission Commander]: Mam, I'm not really the right guy to answer that question, as I'm focused on Afghanistan.

Question [Reuters]: OK, thank you very much.

General John Nicholson [NATO Resolute Support Mission Commander]: But I'll be glad to refer your question to US Central Command, so that they can take that.

Question [Reuters]: OK, thank you very much.

General John Nicholson [NATO Resolute Support Mission Commander]: You're welcome.

Oana Lungescu [NATO Spokesperson]: OK, we go to 8AM Daily. Gentleman over here.

Question [8AM]: Thank you, General. My question is on… I saw that you also looked at President Ghani's ceasefire. You are in Afghanistan, you know the realities of war in Afghanistan. This ceasefire is only with Taliban. How do you differentiate between a Taliban fighter or a Daesh fighter or Haqqani Network fighter? This is… I want your comment on that. Thank you.

General John Nicholson [NATO Resolute Support Mission Commander]: So, as you know in the ceasefire, President Ghani has made the ceasefire with the Taliban, not with Daesh or al-Qaeda or other international terrorist organisations. Now, we have many ways that we differentiate them. Of course, if they were standing in the room here it might be difficult to differentiate them, but there are other ways we can do that, through various forms of intelligence. And so we have confidence that we can differentiate between the two. Some of this is as simple as geographical. We know that in certain areas you have a Taliban presence or you have an ISIS presence. For example, in Southern Nangarhar right now is the largest concentration of Daesh fighters. We are intensifying our efforts against that element right now. So, we have Operation Hamza-3, is underway. That is being directed against Daesh fighters in Southern Nangarhar and if the… you know, as we go into the ceasefire, we may be able to reallocate air assets from elsewhere in the country to focus on this target. So, in fact, there will be an intensification of the operations against Daesh. And interestingly, we have a common enemy in Daesh. So we, the Afghan forces and the Taliban all share a common enemy in Daesh. And so, if the ceasefire indeed progresses, then we will be able to intensify our operations during the ceasefire, against Daesh.

The… on the other hand, we will maintain our vigilance and self defence of all of our Coalition forces and bases, as well as the Afghans. And so we have the capacity to do this, and if Afghan forces are attacked we will respond in self defence of our Afghan comrades.

Oana Lungescu [NATO Spokesperson]: Kuwaiti News Agency. KUNA.

Question [KUNA]: General, do you see any role for the Gulf countries, like Saudi Arabia, like Kuwait, like UAE, to contribute in promoting the peace process in Afghanistan?

General John Nicholson [NATO Resolute Support Mission Commander]: I'm sorry, a role for who?

Question [KUNA]: A role for the Gulf countries, like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, UAE, in promoting the peace process in the country?

General John Nicholson [NATO Resolute Support Mission Commander]: Of course, yeah. Thank you. Thank you, Sir. Absolutely. And so, I'd say on a couple of levels. First is the Ulemas are crucial to moving forward. So again, in Afghanistan, what has precipitated this decision by President Ghani was the Ulemas of Afghanistan meeting and considering the religious justification for the war, and there… number one, they found that the justification was not, in their view, of these prominent religious scholars, they felt that the war was not justified from a religious perspective. But additionally, they also called for peace, as at the hardship that was being endured by the Afghan people.

So, when a group of religious scholars of this stature and respect calls for peace, this is an important message. And of course, the broader Ulemas of the broader Islamic world are extremely important in this conversation. And so we saw recently the meetings in Indonesia. And so, perhaps similar meetings could be held in other parts of the Islamic world. And of course, the OIC has a meeting in July. I believe it's in… it's around the same time as the NATO Summit. But this is one of the questions that we believe could be considered by the OIC, is how this could be addressed. So, these are… but these are questions for those nations and those Ulemas to make. But I know that the Afghan government has approached those nations and asked them to help in a mediating way, to get the conversation started between the Taliban and the government, and to hopefully advance the peace process.

So yes, they could play a very helpful role and we hope they do.

Oana Lungescu [NATO Spokesperson]: TOLO?

Question [TOLO]: General, you talked about the Afghan war as a stalemate last year in Congress. Is the stalemate broken?

General John Nicholson [NATO Resolute Support Mission Commander]: I think that the… what is new since I spoke to Congress last year is President Trump's South Asia policy. And so this South Asia policy was based on the recommendations of his whole national security team and I believe, as you heard Secretary Mattis say in his remarks, that the fundamental logic of this policy has been proven. And again, I come back to the fact that the objective of the policy is to get to a reconciliation of the conflict and that by bringing about a peaceful reconciliation, violence will go down, stability will increase, and that this will prevent a couple of things. One, international terrorists from finding sanctuary in Afghanistan, from which they could conduct attacks, and it will help the Afghan people, who have suffered so long for so many years, to enjoy stability. And then this is good for the whole region. So, the… so, this is the fundamental logic of the policy. So, this logic then is what has fundamentally changed things and brought about the conversation about reconciliation.

Now, with respect to the military aspects on the battlefield, the other thing that… President Ghani's vision for the security forces, which is captured in his roadmap, and I mentioned it before about doubling the size of the special forces, doubling or even tripling the air force, professionalising the force, these things don’t happen overnight, this takes time. I mentioned some of those accomplishments before; 4,000 commandos added this year, another 5,000 next year, Black Hawk helicopters arrived in September, Afghan pilots are flying them in combat now. You have Afghan pilots dropping laser guided bombs. I mean these are things… when they… when we just had the first bomb drop off an A29 two years ago. So, these are tremendous improvements that are occurring.

And as I mentioned, with the new, younger leadership coming into play, and with the… you know after, with great respect, the older generation of leaders are retiring, all of these things are going to make a difference. So, what you're going to see is an increase in capability on the part of the Afghan security forces. I just talked about, in my opening statement, the success that the Afghan security forces have had in defending. So, yes, there's violence, but the fact that there's violence or even the same level of violence, it's what going on inside the violence. So, what I'm trying to explain is how the Afghan forces are better defending, their better performance on the battlefield, their defence against terrorist attacks. I'll give you another example; we have seen a decrease in vehicle born IEDs inside the city of Kabul. Now, any IED is horrible, and especially ones that are indiscriminate and kill civilians are horrendous. But since a year ago, when we had that horrible tragedy of the mega VBIED on the 31st May 2017, we haven’t had another truck bomb of that size come into the city. And this is in large measure due to the great work by the Afghan security forces in trying to stop truck bombs. Now, we still have person born IEDs and we've seen those and those are bad news, but we are seeing improvements. And I think it's important to get into the details of what's happened to really understand how these improvements are being made.

So, I see a positive trend in terms of the security forces and that’s what I base that on, some of those details.

Oana Lungescu [NATO Spokesperson]: OK, one very last question. Yeah? Lady over there.

Question [Euro Diplomatic]: My name is Anna [inaudible] I'm from Euro Diplomatic. General, I have noticed that Secretary Mattis addressed very exactly to physical caliphate. So, he wasn’t saying caliphate, but physical caliphate. So, I presume there is a division between ideology and acting people. So, if NATO is responsible to fighting and defeating physical caliphate, who you think is responsible to fight this lethal ideology?

General John Nicholson [NATO Resolute Support Mission Commander]: Who is responsible to fight the ideology of the enemy? Yeah, that’s a great question. So, a couple of comments on that; first off, much of the enemy activity, what we're calling enemy activity is done to maintain instability so they can profit from the drug trade. So many of these fighters and leaders, who might have started out with an ideological motivation, are now motivated by money. And so, when you look at the amount of heroine that’s being produced in Afghanistan and shipped around the world, there are many who profit from that. And so, just as we’ve seen insurgencies in Colombia for example, more from an ideologically motivated insurgency to a money making operation, there is a dimension of that going on in Afghanistan. And when you consider that 60% of the funding of the Taliban at least comes from the drug trafficking, you can see that this is… you know, their… the ideology is not as pure as it may once have been. Now, that’s not to say there aren’t others who are ideologically motivated. I believe there are. And so this ideological motivation, as we saw last Monday, needs to be addressed by the religious scholars, whose religion is being used to promote this motivation.

And so what you saw last Monday were the top close to 3,000 religious scholars of Afghanistan convene and consider the ideological basis for continuing the war. And what they offered was a religious opinion based upon their very learned opinions and their scholarship, which rejected the ideological basis for the war. And so it went point by point through the things I mentioned and many others, the war in general, suicide bombing, terrorist attacks. You know, is it proper to wage Jihad against an Islamic republic? Their answer was no. Who can declare Jihad? I mean it was a very thorough document. If you haven’t had an opportunity to examine it, I encourage you to do so because it addresses all of these points. And so, this fatwa is complemented by a fatwa in Pakistan that was issued by the Pakistani Ulemas. And the Pakistani Ulemas considered many of the same questions. And then there was an Ulema held in Indonesia recently, in which religious scholars from Pakistan, Afghanistan and other countries met again to consider these questions. And I mentioned before the OIC meeting coming up this summer. And so I think these are some of the most effective ways that the ideology can be addressed and it's encouraging to me to see that it is being addressed and that these questions are not, you know, being addressed by the Coalition, they're being addressed by the religious scholars inside the region. And this is very appropriate, this is exactly who needs to be addressing this.

Oana Lungescu [NATO Spokesperson]: Thank you very much. This concludes this press conference. Thank you, General.

General John Nicholson [NATO Resolute Support Mission Commander]: Thank you.

Oana Lungescu [NATO Spokesperson]: And for the media, we will soon have Defence Minister Bahrami, so please stay in place.

General John Nicholson [NATO Resolute Support Mission Commander]: Thank you very much.

 

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