(CNSNews.com) - "Why should the U.S. continue to send its sons and daughters to Afghanistan?" a reporter asked the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan on Wednesday. "Why should the U.S. millitary stay?"
"It's been a long war," said Army Gen. John Nicholson, now nearing the end of his command:
But I would note that, in that time, our country has not been attacked from Afghanistan. Remember that 21 designated terrorist organizations exist in this region.
ISIS-K, for example, did not exist in this region until about 2014, 2015, and it -- it primarily was created by members of other groups. So the fact -- when you have a large number of groups in close proximity, with a significant population to recruit from -- means that there is a threat from this region to our homeland.
So our choice is fairly simple. We either keep the pressure on them here, or they bring the fight to our doorstep. And so the two principal groups that we're concerned about there are Al-Qaida and Islamic State. Thanks to the great work by our counterterrorism forces, we have devastated it -- Al-Qaida, but they still exist.
Islamic State has ambitions. Now, again, because of great work by our CT (counter-terrorism) forces, we've been able to keep pressure on them. But it's too soon to take the pressure off.
If we are able to achieve a reconciliation through the South Asia strategy -- and, again, as I've outlined tonight, we're taking positive steps in that direction -- and we -- and we achieve...an increased degree of stability here -- again, this is Afghanistan, there will always be violence.
But, if we achieve an increased degree of stability and a lowering of the violence to a level that the Afghans can manage, then it's going to be much easier to keep pressure on these terrorist groups, and that's in the benefit of our nation and all the nations of the coalition.
And, on that last point, I'd say this is not just an American mission. There are 39 nations here. In fact, we have two more that have recently offered to join: UAE and Qatar. And so these nations not only contribute troops; they contribute financially and they bring the legitimacy of a 39-nation coalition to keep pressure on these terrorist groups.
So preventing these terrorists from launching attacks out of this area -- again, largest concentration of terrorist groups anywhere in the world -- is the principal reason why we're here. And -- and we have been successful in protecting our homeland from attacks emanating from this region, ever since 9/11.
Nicholson said the Afghan Air Force, nonexistent until a few years ago, is now flying combat missions and dropping laser-guided bombs.
"So -- so these people want to defend their own country. They -- they view it as a matter of pride that they are the ones fighting and, if necessary, dying to protect their country. They are grateful for our presence.
"And, no, I -- I think that, once we get to -- once we achieve the ends of the South Asia strategy, a reconciliation that lowers the violence to a level that they can manage, then our presence -- you know, we -- that will be the time to re-assess our presence."
The war in Afghanistan began in October 2001. According to the Defense Department, some 2,350 Americans have died as a result of Operation Enduring Freedom, and 20,095 have been injured.