U.S. Army Gen. Joseph Votel, United States Central Command commander, Gen. Scott Miller, Resolute Support mission commander, and Gen. John Nicholson, outgoing Resolute Support mission commander, stand for the playing of the NATO Hymn during a change of command ceremony in Kabul, Afghanistan, September 2, 2018. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Sharida Jackson)
General Nicholson: A Salaam a laykum, welcome. Thanks to all of you for joining us here today. Ministers, ambassadors, generals, friends, your presence here today means so much to my wife Noreen and I. We really appreciate you joining us.
As I’ve looked at the faces in front of me, memories of the past 12 years in Afghanistan come flooding back. So I will just speak from the heart.
My wife Noreen and I love this country and we love the Afghan people. We care deeply about you and your future. We want you to be able to raise your children without fear and know that they will enjoy a peaceful and prosperous future. These are the same things that we in America and across the Coalition want for our own families and we want those things for you.
For the last 40 years the Afghan people have only known war. The war in Afghanistan eventually spilled over and affected the entire world. The Taliban hosted al-Qaida and al-Qaida attacked my country. That is what brought us here. It’s time for this war in Afghanistan to end.
President Ghani’s courageous decision to announce a ceasefire over Eid al-Fitr unleashed the strong call of the Afghan people for peace. The entire world has witnessed this and we support it.
I believe that some of the Taliban want peace also, but they’re being encouraged to keep fighting.
To the Taliban I say you don’t need to keep killing your fellow Afghans. You don’t need to keep killing your fellow Muslims. The time for peace is now.
The entire world is encouraging you to accept the offer of a ceasefire and enter into peace talks. Most importantly, the Afghan people are asking you to settle your differences peacefully.
Whose voice is more important? The outsiders who are encouraging you to fight? Or the voice of your own people who are encouraging you to peace?
But make no mistake, until you are willing to begin talking, we will keep fighting. The brave young men and women of the Afghan Security Forces will always have our full support. Young men like Lieutenant Mohammed Akbar of Triple-2 who died rescuing students at the American University in Kabul. Or Mohammed Umar of the 201st Corps who died tackling a suicide bomber in Jalalabad. Each of these heroes sacrificed their lives to save dozens of innocent lives.
So to our brothers and our sisters in the Afghan Security Forces I say we are with you, and we will stay with you.
This was proven just seven weeks ago when the NATO-led Coalition unanimously agreed to four more years of support for the Afghan Security Forces, through 2024. Two more nations joined the Coalition, and 29 nations increased their troop presence. Over 50 nations have pledged assistance to Afghanistan, and all of these nations support the peace process. These nations are here on a conditions basis, not on a calendar.
They do this because peace in Afghanistan is in everyone’s best interest. It not only ends the suffering of the Afghan people, peace in Afghanistan makes the entire world safer. We are now closer than we have ever been before.
I congratulate the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces on their many accomplishments over the last two and a half years. Even though you are engaged in a tough fight, you have been steadily improving and professionalizing your force. You’re doubling the number of Commando units, doubling the number of Special Police units, tripling the size of the Air Force, reforming the personnel system, retiring with dignity and respect the generation of leaders who fought against one another in the anti-Soviet Jihad. All of this allows the ushering in of the next generation of leaders who will take Afghanistan forward. You’re building a non-commissioned officer corps of incredibly experienced combat leaders, and now building an Afghan National Army Territorial Force who will secure your villages and communities.
This process of building your forces while fighting a war is an incredibly challenging task, and the soldiers, policemen, NCOs and leaders and the Ministries of Defense and Interior deserve great credit for all that they are achieving.
Over the next eight months there will be two elections in Afghanistan. The Coalition is here to support all Afghans, regardless of where they are on the political spectrum. To Afghanistan’s political leaders, I deeply request that you not allow politics to undermine the security or the peace process. Please do not allow politics or ethnicity to undermine the cohesion of your security forces. These brave young Afghans are doing a tough job for their country, and I know they will get your full support. They deserve nothing less.
There are many people who I need to thank as I depart this command. First and foremost, I thank the Afghan people. We will never forget that we are guests in your country. We are deeply grateful for your hospitality. Sometimes we make mistakes, and we ask for your patience and forgiveness when this happens.
Next I wish to thank His Excellency President Ghani and His Excellency Chief Executive Abdullah for their vision and their leadership and for the value that they have placed on the relationship with NATO and the United States of America. This has made a tremendous difference over the policy decisions that we have seen in the last two years.
I thank the leaders of the Security Ministries, past and present, with whom it has been my honor to serve for the last 12 years.
I thank the non-commissioned officers of the Coalition and the Afghan Army and Police, Command Sergeant Major Clark, Command Sergeant Major Roshan, Command Sergeant Major Wali and many others.
I thank all of the commanders and the service members who performed so well on this mission for the past 2.5 years.
I want to thank my boss, General Votel, for your leadership and your vision, your unwavering support and your friendship. Thank you.
As an American general, I thank NATO and our entire Coalition. They are represented here today by General Marchio and Dr. John Manza. When my country was attacked by al-Qaida, you stood by our side and you are still here. We will never forget this.
And I thank Secretary General Stoltenberg for his leadership and his unwavering support for our mission and our NATO service members.
I thank my friend General Scott Miller for taking command of this mission. Scott and I were cadets together at West Point, lieutenants together in the 82nd Airborne Division. We’ve known each other for decades. He is the right commander and the best commander for this job. Scott, thank you, and good luck.
Finally, I want to thank all of our fallen comrades and their families from Afghanistan, from the Coalition, and from the United States. The first American comrade I lost in Afghanistan was Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Fenty in 2006, and the last was Sergeant First Class Rey Transfiguracion just a few weeks ago. I thank God for each of them and all who have fallen in between those two and I pray for their families. We must remember them, we must say their names, tell their stories, and honor them with the quality of our service. And I humbly hope that our service was worthy of their sacrifice.
It’s been my honor to be an American soldier and to serve my country. It’s been an honor to be a NATO soldier serving this alliance. It’s been an honor to be a soldier serving alongside my Afghan brothers and sisters. It’s been a distinct honor to serve the Afghan people.
So Tashakur, Der Ma Nanna. Zala Khiara.
Go with God. Peace be with you.