Reportage Afghanistan: Cripwell, "We need every single soldier now, not even one less ..."

(To Giusy Federici)

"My position as vice commander of HQ Resolute Support in Afghanistan alternates between Italians and Britons. As a deputy commander, my task consists of three main steps: interacting with the international community, with the political ministers and with the Afghan civil society and with all the ambassadors of the coalition countries, so that the objectives of Resolute Support and the intent are clear. of his commander".

Talk to Army Corps General Richard Cripwell, deputy commander of the mission Resolute Support (RS) in Kabul, it is definitely a privilege. Geniere (part of the Royal Genius Corps of Great Britain from the 1982), gen. Cripwell has a long experience as a soldier and international missions, from Kosovo to Iraq to Afghanistan. Among the awards obtained in the homeland, those of Commander of the Order of the British Empire and of Companion of the Order of the Bath and, in the United States, of Officer of the Legion of Merit.

 The role of deputy commander within RS is alternating between Italy and the United Kingdom: gen. Cripwell has replaced the parigrado Rosario Castellano and the new alternation will be with the Italian gen. Salvatore Camporeale.

Extremely prepared, Richard Cripwell is one of those men whose resume speaks for him. Due to the type of his role, because he works alongside the RS commander within the same mission (at this moment the most important for NATO) but with different tasks and due to his long experience in Afghanistan, he is the right person who can explain how the peace process in the Central Asian country is evolving, having a global vision.

When you are lucky enough to meet him - and we thank him for the time he wanted to grant despite his commitments - the long-distance soldier with high professionalism adds his kindness and availability.

General Cripwell, the United Kingdom has announced a strengthening of the assets already present in the area. What is your country's role towards Afghanistan and RS?

The United Kingdom is one of the nations contributing to the mission and most of our work is on Kabul. We are not a framework nation (in the sense that it does not have the responsibility of a sector as it happens, however, for Italy, ed), we work as training, assistance and advice for the units that are in the Kabul area. At the Brussels summit, the United Kingdom announced the increase of 440 soldiers who will start arriving in September and will mainly be employed in Kabul Security Forces, especially in training activities for ministries and organizations in the area.

How do you see the unity of intent of RS in relation to the various organizations (United Nations, the mission of assistance to Afghanistan of the United Nations UNAMA, European Union), to achieve the full stabilization of Afghanistan?

I think that unity of purpose is reaching very concrete results, we also see it through a whole series of meetings that take stock of the situation. I myself am involved every week in a briefing at the UNAMA Core Group, where all the ambassadors are present and where the RS commander also participates four times a year. We work in synergy with UNAMA for all matters concerning security, but we are particularly interested in civilian victims. Sometimes it happens that we disagree, but relations are still excellent, as we are all looking in the same direction as the objectives are the same, security and stability in Afghanistan.

In the recent NATO summit in Brussels, the countries engaged in Afghanistan have agreed to keep the joint effort up to 2024. In your opinion, are the resources made available by each country, in terms of finances, men and means, sufficient or need to be strengthened?

Simplifying, let's say that I am enough. But above all, the outcome of the Brussels summit is important, the way in which the message was strengthened towards Afghanistan, that is, support to the country. I would like to say, however, that not all the positions foreseen in the crisis management plan have been covered, yet the demands represent the minimum for everyone. We value all our soldiers, sailors, pilots and we do not ask anything but that all nations give the minimum guaranteed.

Italy supports the maximum operational effort in the Herat region, on the border with Iran. The area is among the most peaceful in the country. In light of new sanctions on Iran by the United States, do not you think that these can affect the stability process of the area?

First of all I would like to underline the exceptional contribution that Italy has given to Afghanistan and to the mission from the beginning. Italy is a country framework and represents, for the numbers of contributors, the third nation. We, as the RS command, give the maximum value to every single man or woman who work in Afghanistan, are fundamental for the achievement of the mission objective. The result obtained in the western part, Herat, is due to the leadership exercised by the Italians but also by the social and economic contribution for the development of that area.

And I feel a duty to remember that this did not happen without having to pay the price, 54 Italian soldiers died, giving their lives for the stability of this country.

Returning to Afghanistan, no area is still exactly as we would like it to be, especially in the south, for example in Farah, where there are unrest while, in fact, the west side has a certain stability compared to the rest of the country. For certainly economic reasons, Iran influences the stability of the area, has a very strong link with the western border of Afghanistan and this is partly due to the problem of water management. I am not an economist, but we know that Iran is not in good economic condition and it has led to the return of 600mila Afghans who had emigrated to Iran and returned home. I do not think this will cause long-term effects, the two countries are on excellent terms and eventually the situation will improve. Despite the sanctions. Iran has a critical duty, to act in the best way and to be a good partner for Afghanistan and it is crucial that its influence remains positive.

Corruption, among the Afghan authorities, how much does the normalization process of the country block and make the work of RS more difficult? And what is being done on both sides to stem the problem?

In fact, corruption is one of the biggest problems, a real disease, because it takes away money where it is needed and creates effects in all sectors of the country. The international community is working hard to remove this malpractice at all levels, public and private, in Afghanistan. I have just participated in a meeting on corruption-related crimes and on the progress that, it must be said, actually exists. There are truly honest people who are trying to work to create a better society and for development. Likewise, there is no doubt that the level of corruption is still high and until the process is not eradicated to achieve stability it will still be difficult, because corruption is not just about money, but also about positions, the influence in society, etc. We are doing everything within the Armed Forces, suggesting ad hoc laws to remove staff who do not have the appropriate qualities from the most influential positions. It is a continuous process and a real struggle that we intend to fight to the end.

In the process of pacification of Afghanistan, what is missing to achieve and consolidate goals?

As Deputy Commander I tell you, but you probably will not be surprised, that we are getting good results, because we are creating the conditions for a free and honest country. Lastly, the June truce, which has been maintained by the parties, has been underlined and, while we are speaking, President Ashraf Ghani has offered another one. This does not mean that there are no attacks and violence, but it is also true that there are so many evident signs of progress and development. Could we do better? Certainly yes, but it must be said that we are really committed to achieving peace and obtaining results. This year has been critical for us, but I think we can not go back and I'm confident that we are going towards achieving the set goals.

Just a year ago, the line adopted for Afghanistan by the American president Donald Trump, the South Asia Strategy, has foreseen the permanence on the spot of the military assets based not more than a time line but goals achieved. In this new policy year, do you think there have been developments on the ground?

There were two fundamental events: the confirmation of the support from NATO and the South Asia Strategy: both have given a clear message to the Taliban, that we will not leave the country until we have reached the conditions that have been set. These two events, which somewhat destabilized the Taliban, gave the President of Afghanistan further support for his strategy, announced at the February summit, on how to work towards achieving stability. This new support has also given the Taliban the certainty that they will not be able to win and, consequently, will have to adhere to the negotiations or, at least, come to terms. The first ceasefire was particularly important because it showed that all the people want to reach peace. President Ghani has been very clear that Afghanistan can not afford to continue killing its civilians, often young and among the best resources in the country, by terrorists. It is a difficult path, but the nation is now on the right path. And the support of every single nation is important, in particular that of Italy that has been fundamental in relation to leadership and the way in which it has worked and produced results on the ground.

However, I am also absolutely convinced that without the support of the international community, we can not reach the objectives, now no longer so far. We need every single soldier, and again, every single soldier, who is currently employed in Afghanistan. Not one more, but not even one less. We can not afford to reduce the number of staff currently engaged.

(photo: author / RS / Nato / ISAF)