Afghan Government Announces Temporary Truce With Taliban
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Year after year after year, the story out of Afghanistan seems the same. The Taliban attack. American missile strikes go the other way. There are promises that Afghans will take control of their country's security one of these days. Now there may be a glimmer of hope. The Afghan government announced a cease-fire. U.S. forces supporting them will take part. The forces are both fighting. The Taliban says it's too early to respond. The head of U.S. forces in Afghanistan Gen. John Nicholson spoke with Rachel Martin from Kabul.
RACHEL MARTIN, BYLINE: General, thank you so much for talking with us.
JOHN NICHOLSON: Thank you, Rachel.
MARTIN: You, as the commander of U.S. forces, issued a statement supporting this temporary cease-fire. It is temporary, though. It lasts just through Ramadan. Do you believe that it carries larger significance?
NICHOLSON: This cease-fire is in response to a call from 3,000 religious scholars who on Monday called on the government and all belligerents to engage in a peace process. There have also been calls from an Afghan grassroots peace movement on the government, as well. So it does have great significance in terms of the government responding to the calls of these parts of Afghan society, and I think this reflects their strong desire for peace after almost 40 years of war.
MARTIN: You say an Afghan peace movement. What more can you tell us about that?
NICHOLSON: Yeah. We've had, in the last several months, spontaneous grassroots non-aligned peace activists around the country staging events in favor of peace. And this has occurred in over half the country. So this is something new and important.
MARTIN: Something like this has never happened before? I mean, you talked to Afghans for years who've been sick of the war and sick of the violence. But you're saying that you've never seen such a concerted movement?
NICHOLSON: Yeah. What's been interesting is that you see this cuts across many sectors of society. So young people, civil society, but also women. There's been many women for peace. And so I think what we're seeing is sort of a critical mass building for peace inside the country, and it hasn't occurred in such a widespread manner as far as we know at any time otherwise in the war.
MARTIN: Has the Taliban responded to this cease-fire? Any indication they're interested in honoring it?
NICHOLSON: We saw a report from a Taliban spokesman who said the leadership was considering it, and that's all I know at this point.
MARTIN: A central issue in any peace negotiation is the presence of U.S. troops. The Taliban wants them gone, or at least scaled back significantly. Is that something the U.S. would consider?
NICHOLSON: I can't speak for the U.S. government on this point. This is going to be something that needs to be officially considered. I would say that we have seen a significant reduction in the U.S. presence here over the years. You know, at our peak, we had over 140,000 troops here. A hundred-thousand of those were U.S. We're now down to a fraction of that. And it's the Afghan security services that are doing the fighting. We are here to assist them, but they're the ones doing the fighting and keeping pressure on these terrorist groups.
MARTIN: What does it feel like to you right now on the ground?
NICHOLSON: Yeah. I'm encouraged by this talk about peace. I've not seen this in my many years in Afghanistan before. I'm encouraged by the growth and competence and effectiveness of the Afghan security forces. These are the forces that are very adaptive, keeping pressure on terrorist groups with our help.
MARTIN: With all due respect, though, General, I've been hearing about the training efforts to train Afghan troops so they can stand up and U.S. forces can stand down. I've been hearing about that for 12 years.
NICHOLSON: Well, and we're down to a lower level of U.S. forces than we've ever been before because they are doing it. But we need to continue to support them for a while longer to keep pressure on these enemy groups and protect the country.
MARTIN: But again, how do you determine when it's time to go home?
NICHOLSON: When they can stand up on their own and they're making important progress in that regard. The other thing I would highlight is the movement towards peace. So when there is a reconciliation amongst the belligerents in this country then we're going to see the levels of violence come down, and then this instability that's caused by the violence is what provides an environment for these terrorist groups to thrive. So supporting and advancing the peace process is one of the most important ways that we can help bring stability to this country and then eventually look at our troop levels that are needed here.
MARTIN: Gen. John Nicholson is the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan. Sir, thank you so much for your time. We appreciate it.
NICHOLSON: Thank you, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.