KABUL, Afghanistan – Afghanistan's security forces, with the help of U.S. and NATO ground and air support, will annihilate the Islamic State group affiliate in the country and crush remnants of al-Qaida, Gen. John Nicholson, the top U.S. general in Afghanistan, vowed Thursday.
Nicholson also had a message for the Taliban: "Stop fighting against your countrymen. Stop killing innocent civilians. Stop bringing hardship and misery to the Afghan people. Lay down your arms and join Afghan society. Help build a better future for this country and your own children."
Nicholson and Hugo Llorens, the U.S. Embassy's Special Chargé d'Affaires, told reporters in the capital Kabul that President Donald Trump's new strategy for Afghanistan announced Monday was a promise to Afghans that together they would defeat terrorism and prevent terrorist groups from establishing safe havens.
"We will not fail in Afghanistan," Nicholson said. "Our national security depends on it, as well as Afghanistan's security, and our allies and partners."
But Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid was defiant in a telephone interview with The Associated Press: "We are not giving our guns to any one and our Taliban are fighting until the last U.S. soldier is no longer here in Afghanistan."
Senior U.S. officials have said that Trump may send up to 3,900 more troops, with some deployments beginning almost immediately. Nicholson did not offer a time frame for deployment, however, saying only that "in the coming months, U.S. Forces Afghanistan and NATO will increase its train, advise and assist efforts in Afghanistan. And we will increase our air support to Afghan security forces."
Nicholson had particular praise for Afghanistan's commandos and special forces known as Ktah Khas, saying they had yet to lose a battle and plans were being made to double their size.
"The Taliban have never won against the commandos and Ktah Khas," he said. "They never will."
Nicholson told reporters that the losses among Taliban foot soldiers have exceeded those of the Afghan National Security Forces, though he didn't offer figures.
The U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction in its latest report released July 31 said 2,531 Afghan service members were killed in action in just the first five months of this year and another 4,238 were wounded.
Nicholson said efforts were being made to tackle corruption within the Afghan security force, an issue that was flagged in the same July Inspector General report that identified more than 12,000 Afghan Ministry of Defense personnel that were "unaccounted for," fearing some could be so-called "ghosts" who exist only on paper.
Trump too addressed the need for reforms by the Afghan government in his Monday night speech.
"The American people expect to see real reforms, real progress, and real results. Our patience is not unlimited," Trump said. "We will keep our eyes wide open."
Reporters questioned both Nicholson and Llorens about how the U.S. would force Pakistan to close Taliban sanctuaries in its territory. Trump was uncompromising in his demand that Pakistan close the safe havens that the U.S. and Afghanistan have repeatedly accused them of allowing on their soil.
"For its part, Pakistan often gives safe haven to agents of chaos, violence and terror," he said. "That will have to change, and that will change immediately."
Nicholson said discussions with Pakistan would be held in private, adding "it has already started" without offering more details.