General John W. Nicholson Jr. has led the U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan for 31 turbulent months. Now, he’s finally retiring, and in his departing speech in Kabul, made some strong statements about the 17-year-long conflict.
“It is time for this war in Afghanistan to end,” Nicholson said, simply, according to the New York Times.
Nicholson also reprimanded the Taliban and countries like Pakistan for encouraging the conflict to continue. “Whose voices are important?” he said. “The outsiders who are encouraging you to fight, or the voices of your own people who are encouraging you to peace?”
He also pushed for peace talks to begin immediately, a strategy that the Trump administration hopes will hasten the end of the war.
Nicholson’s statements about the cost of endless war, though surprising coming from a four star general, pale in comparison to his wife’s activism. Norine MacDonald, a security analyst who Nicholson met in Afghanistan, was a prominent presence alongside her husband in recent years, and her positions were often at odds with U.S. actions. In addition to distributing aid to families who were bombed by U.S. and NATO troops, she published video of terrible conditions in parts of the country, and railed against the radicalizing force of the war on young Afghan men.
MacDonald also pushed the U.S. to end campaigns to eradicate Afghan poppy farms, which she argued would be better off legalized for the purposes of making medicine than destroyed. WikiLeaks later released cables that showed U.S. officials discussing the need to “rein her in.”After that, it seems someone attempted to push her out of the country.
According to the Times:
Ms. MacDonald’s offices were raided by Afghan intelligence, her equipment confiscated, and she was asked to leave the country (scrambling to find caretakers for her Russian jeep and motorcycle that she drove around Kabul, and the pet turtle she kept at her home), although it was not clear whether she ever left.
Other military higher ups who served in Afghanistan take their anti-war analysis even further than Nicholson (though perhaps not as far as his wife).
“Our soldiers are volunteers, permitting the American people and their elected representatives to be indifferent about the war in Afghanistan,” Karl Eikenbery, a former American commander in Afghanistan and U.S. ambassador to Kabul, told the Times. “We continue to fight simply because we are there.”
“Military commanders in Afghanistan, absent political guidance and a diplomatic strategy, have filled the vacuum by waging a war all agree cannot be won militarily,” Eikenberry added “Their mission has been to ‘make progress,’ which they themselves define and which is often unrelated to the tasks of delivering a sustainable peace and the withdrawal of U.S. forces.”
Nicholson will be succeeded by Gen. Austin “Scott” Miller, who is a veteran of the covert Joint Special Operations Command.
The toll of misery that the war has inflicted on Afghans and Americans alike is hard to comprehend. Since the beginning of the war, more soldiers have died than citizens who were killed in the 9/11 attacks that sparked the war. Over 200 U.S. troops were killed in the last five years of the conflict alone, and hundreds have been left injured and disabled. As of 2016, more than 31,000 Afghan civilians are estimated to have been killed in the war, and in 2018, civilian deaths were at record levels. Nearly 90,000 Afghans were displaced by the war in 2017 alone.
General Nicholson is right: it’s time to end this war.