Reportage Afghanistan: Nicholson, "As a NATO general, I can tell you that it was an honor to command the Italian soldiers ..."

(To Giusy Federici)

"I thank the Italian Armed Forces. Italian soldiers bring not only their tradition, which for centuries has shaped our cultures starting from the Roman legions. And I want to tell you, first of all, THANK YOU! You have been of extreme help. You represent the best of the officers with whom I have had the pleasure of working and, of course, of all the soldiers who have served here. I want to thank you because you have been close to my country in every moment of need. Even after the September 11, you were the first to be on our side, you have always been with us from the beginning. Keep doing it even when it's not easy. As a NATO general, I can tell you that it was an honor to command Italian soldiers. I have had the opportunity to work with your Army on many occasions. On a personal level, my wife and I, we love Italy, we like Italian culture, food and fashion. Your music is also beautiful and speaks to the soul in an extraordinary way. When, with my lady, I go on vacation, we choose Italy. To celebrate my 60esimo birthday, we wanted to travel 60 miles in Tuscany. And we visited Naples, Pompeii, Positano, Rome ...
This is my last mission, after which I return home, I will retire. I thought a lot about this, for me it was the best job to command soldiers from 41 Nations. Now that I withdraw, I will not only have Afghanistan in my heart but also Italy and Italian soldiers. I will never thank you enough. And I have no words to tell you what honor it was for me to serve as a soldier not only of my nation but also as a NATO soldier

These are the words of General John Nicholson, outgoing commander of the US military forces in Afghanistan and of the Operation Resolute Support of NATO (replaced on 2 September by General Austin Scott Miller, ed) in Kabul.

We are here, in the heart of the mission Resolute Support, in the part of the Ita Nse (Italian Nation Support Element), where a farewell ceremony was organized for Nicholson, which the general granted only to Italians. Which speaks volumes about the relations between our two countries in the context of the NATO mission and mutual esteem, as highlighted by Major General Massimo Panizzi, commander for NATO of the Resolute Support Division and Italian Senior National Representative, because the most senior officer of rank in the Italian support.

In a brief but meaningful meeting, General Nicholson was greeted by the notes of "Nessun dorma" sung by a young Afghan tenor who moved him. "I wanted there to be an Afghan tenor, because music is an expression of culture and because in Afghanistan there is also that, so there is hope. And it's important!"- explains General Panizzi. "Afghanistan is thought to be all fights and ambushes, but there is also a world of young people who think of culture, which attends the university or the conservatory.There is a world that goes on".

Major General Massimo Panizzi, Alpine, former commander of the Alpine brigade Taurinense, he wanted to give Nicholson a hat with a pen, together with a painting and a book dedicated to the mountains ... "We, as Italian soldiers, have felt your esteem and your friendship. And I want to thank you on behalf of everyone, on my part and the Italian military (soldiers, sailors, aviators and carabinieri). For your constant support for the Italian troops stationed in Afghanistan and your very high sense of duty and solidarity, the president of the National Association of Alpini offers you the symbol of the Alpine spirit, their Hat", Panizzi stressed in reading the motivation.

Brigadier General Sergio Cardea, paratrooper, former commander of the 183rd Nembo Parachute Regiment, awarded Commander Nicholson with the Italian military parachuting license as an honor, pinning his wings to his chest (and giving him the certificate signed by the brigade commander thunderbolt, General Rodolfo Sganga), with various motivations, among which "... The gen. Nicholson is an extraordinary soldier who not only served airborne troops for many years but as commander of the 82ma paratroopers division, he created the international Airborne community, through which many nations have had the opportunity to share operational experiences, improve interoperability and participate in historical tutorials like Swift Response. For this reason, for the strong attachment shown to the units of the Folgore, for the sense of camaraderie and commitment to the ethical values ​​of the airborne troops ... is authorized to bring the silver badge of the Italian paratroopers ...".

Nicholson himself is a paratrooper. "There is a special place in my heart for the Folgore paratroopers ... I, as commander, have had the opportunity to work with the Folgore brigade ... for this I want to thank you, for being the last of a long line of high-value officers . This is a great honor and I hope to thank the commander in person. Being recognized by the Alpini and the Folgore I cannot tell you how much it means for a soldier like me. Thanks again!”, The conclusion of General Nicholson.

Nicholson loves Italy, where he often comes for work commitments and even on vacation. Above all, as a good soldier who holds the values ​​of honor and the word given and with that humility that only great men have, who could pull it off and do not, he has never failed to express appreciation for the work done by our soldiers. joint forces in Kabul and Herat. And this is recognized by everyone, not just the Americans.

Kabul is the heart but also the head not only of the entire international operation of NATO Resolute Support but also of the Italian joint-force mission, in the context of RS, here as in Herat. And as happens in every mission, each country brings with it a piece of homeland and civil life, we in the premises of the Ita Nse where the tricolor and our language speaks, near the Spanish Nse, further on the section "Gender ”Where the ladies, for company, keep some cute kittens in the basket.

The mission has changed

Resolute Support, in which 41 Nations participate, from 1 January 2015 it replaced the ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) operation and today it is dedicated to training, consulting and assistance of the Afghan Army and Security Forces, trying to bring them to ever greater autonomy operational. The Italians, in particular, act as advisors, also assisting and providing advice to the Afghan staff of the commands and ministries in Kabul. Everything is obviously planned in advance, as far as we are concerned through the J5 department, the Italian-led Advisor Team, which as mentioned works in synergy with the Afghan components, first of all the Ministry of Defense, which gives the directives regarding the security, while the Chief of Staff translates political and security guidelines into directives that can be applied by his own military units and is responsible for the capabilities of the Armed Force. All of this is part of a broader agreement between Afghanistan and the United States, which includes a series of improvements in the fields of governance, economic development, reconciliation and security with the components of increasing combat capability, joint effort, leadership development and the fight against corruption, elements that are part of the Road Map of the President of Afghanistan Ashraf Ghani between now and 2020. To this is added the part relating to "gender", which sees more and more Afghan women in the Armed Forces and beyond and whose branch is they employ the women of the RS mission, as explained by Rebekah Gerber, of the US Navy and MoD Senior Gender Advisor.

Of the various problems and solutions it will be discussed more in the services and in the outgoing interviews in the coming days.

To understand Afghanistan, the strategies in place for pacification and the evolution of everything, one must come to Kabul, in the heart of NATO's “Resolute Support” mission. And also to understand what the Italian soldiers are doing in Herat, where is the heart of the national mission, it is important to understand how the head works, the core of the decisions, which are taken here in Kabul.

Above all, it is important to try to understand how things really are: when it comes to Afghanistan, in Italy, we often rely on what the foreign media say, largely aligned against Donald Trump's policy and which, therefore, tend to show only the half-empty glass. Or, we go for clichés: Afghanistan is always dangerous, there is no progress, the mission is useless, the Americans are increasingly using contractors instead of the military, etc.

Afghanistan is dangerous: ok, it's true, it still shoots, some areas are not pacified and the ambush is around the corner, but it's not true that the Taliban are regaining control. The situation is more complex, especially if we think that the new generation of Taliban would like to enter into the law and fight other enemies, those of Daesh (Isis) and Al Qaeda, a perennial cancer that is not autochthonous. And it is dangerous if you travel alone in the endless lands and risk being kidnapped, more than killed, by the various warlords that compete for the territory more for the opium than for the country. Even in our Europe, we are not doing well in terms of security between shootings in the premises, stabbings and trucks at full speed on civilians. As for the RS mission, progress is being made despite the various difficulties that are obvious.

The glass is therefore also half full. And our soldiers here in Kabul, although few compared to Herat, do a very important strategic and diplomatic job, supported by the American command in the context of a mission under the NATO umbrella, of which Italy is a partner.

Turning to Kabul, even if fundamentally in the green zone, is a bit 'estraniante: in the protected car, escorted by the rangers of the 4 ° alpine paratroopers regiment of Verona, meets people of all ages on bicycles, women with veils but without burka , young students with school uniform who walk tidy and lively, open shops, traffic. See the normality, while you would expect, by hearsay, that there is a curfew out there, which is why it is estranging.

In our latitudes we often hear the RS mission is useless, we talk about it, that the Afghans do not frown on Westerners, that the Americans are just warmongers and that the Italians waste time etc. It is not what has been found. And a journalist has to tell the truth of the facts, at least of what he hears and sees and touches, not to endorse the hearsay, or the amarcord of years ago for a flight and maybe even tactical on the Afghan skies, or a walk on the spot like the one on the lunar ground, or the politically correct that is so fashionable. Telling what has been seen requires professional ethics and respect for readers.

It is a proud people, the Afghan people and the Westerners, passing through or in military bases, are guests and behave like that. It is the Afghans who have asked them to have training, assistance and advice, starting with the Afghan Defense Ministry up to the armed forces and special forces, which increasingly take on an autonomous character capable of countering terrorism: even if there is so much work to do, this is a fact.

And then, between hearsay and personal visa, we try to find at least a compromise, probably "in medio stat virtus ...".

From Afghanistan there are not only negative news, it depends on the source that you prefer to listen to: there are also positive ones. There is a process of national reconciliation and diplomatic initiatives with the Taliban, not to mention the June ceasefire that has been respected by the parties.

There is a lot of talk about the presence of the United States on Afghan territory: it is not an occupation, it should be remembered that there is a NATO mission that deals with the assistance of the Afghan security forces, Resolute Support precisely and that the US itself is part of it and there are also the Italians, an element to underline.

As for the Taliban, it is not true that they continue their advance throughout Afghanistan, as some TV shows or as some write: it is true that they have taken actions, but they have also suffered considerable losses. The thing the Taliban are better at than the central government is propaganda via the web, where they manage to turn a momentary success or defeat into a victory. With the support of many Western media and "maître à penser", it seems convenient to talk about an Afghanistan that remained 17 years ago, but it is not. The city of Gazni, for example, of which much has been said lately: there have been days of clashes, it is true, but it was absolutely not taken by the Taliban as has been said.

Therefore, we have a misperception of what is happening. The Afghan security forces, which have made great progress against the Taliban, now have a special forces component and an air force component that allow them to have superiority on the battlefield over the Taliban.

The terrorist attacks in Afghanistan are also organized by "foreign" militias of Daesh (Isis) and Al Qaeda: it is said that the two terrorist organizations have agreed: the data is not reflected in any source of intelligence. On the contrary, Daesh and Al Qaeda have always been antagonists. In some situations they have made local alliances but are always clearly separated. There have been "transfers" of people who had served in the ranks of Al Qaeda and then moved to Daesh, but the two organizations have never worked together, they have different objectives. Among other things, there is a crisis here too. I'm not in good health. The main thought of Al Qaeda militants here in Afghanistan at the moment is to survive, so much so that they cannot carry out offensive actions outside the Afghan territory itself. There is, it is true, a minimum of affinity between Al Qaeda and the Taliban and for old historical reasons, but if the latter were to enter into a real process of reintegration, they could renounce their affiliation with the former. And, surely, there is no affinity between the Taliban and Daesh.

When we talk about the Americans, we say that the Pentagon does not have a plan: in reality the plan exists, but the solution is not only military but also diplomatic, economic, political. It is a solution that requires a multidimensional plan, a plan that is shared within the Atlantic Alliance, then from the United States with all the other allies participating in the coalition. And it is a plan that has been agreed with the Afghans.

It is obvious that we can not abandon Afghanistan suddenly even if the missions are completed, and it is also the strategy of Donald Trump and his South Asia Policy, which provides among others that the withdrawal of Western troops is a function of the achievement conditions on the ground. Which shows how upstream there is, and how, a strategy, including the increase of soldiers where and if it serves, including former soldiers again in the ranks of the US military with other tasks, what we call contractor but we should agree on what we mean. They are professionals still useful to their country, hired by the Department of Defense or NATO to go to occupy positions that should be filled by the military, which instead can deal with other. These "contractors" are almost all former soldiers who, at the end of active service, are contracted and precisely because of their experience.

The Italians, like the Americans who have had more than 2 thousand deaths here, have been in Afghanistan for a long time, they know how to work on site, they know about critical issues and progress. Among our soldiers, specifically, despite the alternation of shifts, in Afghanistan some have returned several times as captains, major, colonel and perhaps general. They also lived missions with gun battles and places, spending two or three years of their lives, perhaps with a newborn son in the homeland.

And it must also be remembered that in Afghanistan, even if it changed its name and objectives, since the post-war period it has been the mission where the Italian nation, with 55 fallen, paid the highest tribute of blood. Perhaps, at times, we should pontificate less, learn more, certainly pay homage to these guys, lower their heads as a sign of respect, keep quiet.

(photo: Resolute Support / author / US Air Force / NATO / US Navy)