The top US military commander in Afghanistan said on Thursday President Donald Trump’s new strategy is a sign of a long-term commitment to what is already America’s longest war and vowed to annihilate the ISIS affiliate in the country.
General John Nicholson said in the Afghan capital, Kabul that Trump’s policy for Afghanistan and South Asia was also proof of the international community’s determination to see a stable and peaceful Afghanistan.
“We will not fail in Afghanistan,” Nicholson said in a tough-talking address to reporters.
“The Taliban cannot win on the battlefield, it’s time for them to join the peace process,” he said.
Critics, including Trump himself during the 2016 campaign for the US presidency, have argued that Afghanistan is no closer to peace despite billions of dollars spent on aid and nearly 16 years of US and allied military operations.
In February, Nicholson told the US Congress he needed “a few thousand” more troops in Afghanistan, mostly to help advise Afghan security forces that are battling Taliban, ISIS and other extremists.
Nicholson said Thursday that ISIS was being crushed in Nangarhar province and that the US will pursue its militants wherever else they choose to make their stand.
Trump has now approved an extended American presence in Afghanistan, although neither he nor his military leaders have provided any specifics about troop numbers or timelines.
The current US force for the predominantly advise-and-assist mission in Afghanistan stands at around 8,400, well down from around 100,000 during the “surge” decided on by Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama.
Several thousand more troops are often in the country on “temporary” or other uncounted missions.
Nicholson said new advisers from the United States and NATO coalition allies would increase the training missions, including at specialized military schools and expanding the Afghan air force and special forces.
The Taliban government was overthrown by US-backed Afghan forces in late 2001 but US forces have been bogged down there ever since. About 2,400 US troops have been killed in Afghanistan.
US military and intelligence officials are concerned that a new Taliban victory would allow al-Qaeda and ISIS’ regional affiliate to establish bases in Afghanistan.