When American Airlines Flight 77 struck the Pentagon on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, Lt. Col. John W. Nicholson Jr. survived by chance. That morning, as dozens of his colleagues were killed, he was moving house and wasn’t at his desk — which he said was 100 feet from the nose of the plane.
Nearly 17 years to the day, now a four-star general departing as the commander of the American and NATO forces in Afghanistan, he stood under the shade of pine trees in Kabul on Sunday, and delivered an emotional farewell.
The general, who spent 31 months at the helm of a quagmire of a mission that has shaped his career over four tours of the country and has cast a shadow on a generation of American military leaders, said he wanted to speak from the heart.
“It is time for this war in Afghanistan to end,” General Nicholson said.
The general called on the Taliban to “stop killing your fellow Afghans,” but he also referred indirectly to regional players — particularly Pakistan, where the militants enjoy sanctuary — who have complicated the fight.
“Whose voices are important?” he asked. “The outsiders who are encouraging you to fight, or the voices of your own people who are encouraging you to peace?”
Naming the first and the last American soldier killed under his command and praying for the hundreds in between, the general demonstrated little of the chest-thumping of previous commanders and put aside his own sometimes rosy assessments of the situation for a more of a somber reality that seems to be dawning on the American military leadership. [Continue reading…]