The Afghan National Defense and Security Forces are making slow and steady progress, giving them momentum for an expected tough fight ahead, Army Brig. Gen. Charles H. Cleveland said June 1 in Kabul.
“It’s still obviously very early in the fighting season (with) a long way to go,” Cleveland, Resolute Support’s deputy chief of staff for communications, told Pentagon reporters via teleconference.
“Frankly, there will be bad days over the coming months — there’s no doubt about that,” he said. But the Afghan forces, he added, are “slowly but surely getting progressively better.”
Gains have been achieved in Kunduz, where the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces’ early spring offensive degraded the Taliban, Cleveland said.
“Although the ANDSF did bend a little bit, they didn’t break and they were able to repel the Taliban,” he said. “Once they successfully did that, they were able to reopen lines of communication out to the surrounding provinces.”
The Afghan forces have performed better this year, in comparison to last year, Cleveland said.
“Based on that, we are cautiously optimistic about the coming months, because overall we do believe that they have some momentum right now,” he said.
He reported a “small, slow (and) gradual, but steady level of improvement.”
Cleveland cited the Afghan forces’ increased expertise in their newer capabilities, including in special operations. In addition, they have switched from a defensive mindset to an offensive one, Cleveland said.
The commander of Resolute Support and U.S. Forces — Afghanistan, Army Gen. John W. Nicholson, who assumed command March 2 — is wrapping up his 90-day assessment of the situation in the country, Cleveland said.
The assessment is to include the overall threat situation, current operations, resources, and projections for the future, he said.
Nicholson is expected to privately brief his chain of command in the next days on his findings and any recommendations, Cleveland said. His assessment at this point is expected to remain classified, to allow for frank discussions with military leadership, according to Cleveland.
Cleveland said he does not expect peace talks “anytime in the short term” with the Taliban’s new leader, Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada, who replaced Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansur.
Mansur was killed in a U.S. airstrike May 21 in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region.
Some Taliban members, according to Cleveland, might want to abandon the fight, after seeing the precision strike that killed Mansur, and being faced with continued violence and improved capabilities of the Afghan forces.
“Our hope is that some of those lower-level people will begin to engage on the peace piece,” Cleveland said.