BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan — The past 17 commanders of international forces in Afghanistan, as well as other US leaders, say the coalition is making "real progress" towards defeating the Taliban insurgency and stabilizing the country, sources confirmed today.
That positive outlook has offered new hope for peace and stability as the current commander, Gen. John Nicholson, looks to deploy "a few thousand" more troops to theater to build upon all the progress that has already been made.
Gen. Tommy Franks served as commander of US Central Command from 2000-2003, and was in charge of operations in the Middle East when the Taliban was conclusively defeated in 2002.
"What a difference 10 months makes in a country like Afghanistan," Franks said in an interview that year. "Taliban's gone."
Many other commanders have talked about the incredible progress that has been achieved in Afghanistan, where NATO has crippled the Taliban and put them against the ropes. As most terror analysts note, the terror group can barely hold on after more than 15 years of fighting.
In 2005, Gen. John Abizaid, who succeeded Franks at CentCom, promisingly judged that international activity in Afghanistan had "shown interesting progress." He also noted the coalition was making progress in "reconstruction projects that showed some tangible progress" and "the cessation of hostilities after 25 years worth of hostilities in the vast majority of the country."
And Gen. Dan McNeill, who served as commander of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) from 2007-2008, prudently assessed that "there is significant progress in the forward move of the Afghan National Army," while scrupulously reminding the audience that "NATO's an interim force in Afghanistan."
Still, there have been setbacks.
In 2009, Gen. David McKiernan was fired from his post as ISAF commander after brashly stating that the US "must define winning in Afghan terms: meaning improved security, reduced civilian casualties, trustworthy government, economic and social progress."
He went on to suggest that a satisfactory outcome in Afghanistan would take a decade or more to achieve, despite historical precedent to the contrary and Vice President Dick Cheney's assertion that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were won back in 2004.
Fortunately, Gen. David Petraeus replaced McChrystal and masterfully implemented a grand strategy to inject more progress into the campaign for progress. In a letter to the troops in July 2010 he declared, "progress has been achieved in some critical areas, and we are poised to realize more."
Full progress in Afghanistan was achieved definitively in May 2011 with a high-profile raid that killed Osama bin Laden. Vice President Joe Biden then drove a proverbial stake through the heart of the war when he said in 2012, "we are leaving [Afghanistan] in 2014. Period."
Gen. John Allen paved the path to victory for his successors, stating in 2013, "I think we are on the road to winning," as he turned over command to Gen. Joseph Dunford.
Before "Fightin' Joe" closed out the war in 2014, he offered a more somber assessment, saying, "At this point we have made significant progress, but we are not yet at the point where it is completely sustainable." He also reassured Americans that though there would be a US presence in Afghanistan after 2014, “the actual fighting on a day-to-day basis will all be done by Afghans.”
And as ISAF transitioned to the Resolute Support Mission (RSM) at the end of 2014, Gen. John Campbell maintained a bright outlook.
“Together, we have lifted the Afghan people out of the darkness of despair and given them hope for the future," he said during the transition ceremony.
Gen. Nicholson, the current RSM commander, is looking to continue the progress made by his predecessors over the past 15 years. He has big shoes to fill, as at least two presidents and perhaps a dozen commanders have successfully won the war thus far.
But his plans are on track, as he stated in a press briefing in July 2016, "I would say overall our mission in Afghanistan is on a positive trajectory."
Interestingly, Mullah Mohammed Omar, who served as the sole Taliban leader from 1996 until his death in a jet ski accident in 2013, frequently said the Taliban was making "real progress" in the region.