Afghans say Trump wrong to target general
KABUL, Afghanistan — Afghans are alarmed by widespread reports that President Donald Trump has threatened to fire Gen. John Nicholson, the highly regarded U.S. military commander in the wartorn country, and that Trump has also delayed deciding on a military and political strategy Afghans have awaited anxiously for the past six months.
Nicholson, 61, the top U.S. military official in Afghanistan for the past 16 months, has become the best-known face of Washington there, working closely with Afghan military and civilian officials, and vocally advocating expanded U.S. military engagement, while the Taliban and other insurgents continue aggressive attacks across the country.
Now, with two U.S. servicemen killed in the past week, Trump’s attack on Nicholson for failing to “win” the 16-year war has stunned Afghan officials and political leaders. They said a clear signal of continued support from Washington is urgently needed to keep the fragile Kabul government on its feet amid an explosion of public unrest and organized opposition from a variety of groups.
“Our biggest immediate worry is the lack of an American strategy,” said Omar Daudzai, a former senior Afghan official. “We are facing political turmoil and a security crisis. Neighboring governments are meddling. We need an American commitment to support the defense forces, elections and democratic institutions. America’s reputation is at stake in Afghanistan, and if this all goes bad, America will lose its credibility.”
Over the past several days, Afghan officials and others in the country praised Nicholson, saying he inherited a protracted and worsening conflict but has worked closely with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on developing a detailed fouryear plan to support Afghan security forces so they can defend the country alone. With no permanent U.S. ambassador there since December, the four-star general’s role has also taken on added diplomatic importance.
Observers in Kabul said Nicholson, now on his fourth military tour in the country, had earned wide respect for his hard work and outreach to Afghans. Last year, Nicholson told a congressional committee that since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, “the U.S. campaign in Afghanistan has largely defined my service.”
A U.S. military official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said Nicholson “is not one to twist in the wind. He is focusing on the mission he was asked to carry out: a strategy to help the Afghans stand on their own feet. This is an Afghan conflict, and everyone knows there is no quick and easy solution. The main thing President Ghani has asked us for is time.”
But a variety of Afghans said the controversy over Nicholson and further postponement of an announced U.S. policy after months of drift, have aroused concern that Washington may abandon its longtime role as a supporter of Afghan democracy, and possibly even the war effort, at a time of growing domestic unrest and interference by foreign regional powers.
“These delays are not just a matter of bureaucracy, they are a matter of life and death to the Afghan people,” said Davood Moradian, director of the Afghan Institute for Strategic Studies. The Taliban insurgents, he said, are trying to “influence the debate in Washington with these new attacks. The longer these delays continue, the more innocent lives will be lost.”
Moradian said Trump “has a right to be angry” about the military stalemate, “but he is attacking the wrong target.” He said Nicholson had done “an admirable job of filling the political and diplomatic vacuum” since Trump took office, and that he should not be blamed for the failure of policies set by President Barack Obama’s administration.
Under Obama’s policy, U.S. and NATO forces peaked in 2009 at 140,000 troops, but most of them withdrew in 2014 with the war still hotly contested. Nicholson heads a limited assistance mission of about 8,400 troops that advise and train Afghan forces and provide air combat support.
Meanwhile, Taliban insurgents launched coordinated attacks from three different directions on Sayad district in northern Sari Pul province killing at least seven security forces, said a provincial official.
Zabi Amani, a spokesman for the provincial governor, said Saturday that insurgents seized control of the strategic Mirzawalang area in Sayad district earlier in the day after two days of intense gun battle with the Afghan security forces.
“We requested reinforcement for the central government, unfortunately couldn’t get any support, that is why the forces lost control of Mirzawalang,” said Amani.
Qari Yusouf Ahamdi, a Taliban spokesman, claimed responsibility for the attack in an email addressed to media.
Amani said 10 Taliban fighters, including two group leaders, were also killed in the battles and four Afghan security officers were wounded.
Elsewhere, the provincial director of the counter-narcotics unit in western Ghor province was killed by two gunmen, the spokesman for the provincial police chief in Ghor province, Iqbal Nezami, said Saturday.
Two men on a motorbike shot and killed counter-narcotics chief Noorudin Shairfi in the province’s capital Faroz Koh, Nezami said. “No one has been arrested, but the police have launched an investigation,” he added.
No one has claimed responsibility for the attack in Ghor.
And in southern Kandahar province a member of the Afghan police force was shot and killed by NATO advisers before he was able to attack their forces, according to a NATO-led Resolute Support mission statement.