The change of command ceremony took place at the NATO’s Resolute Support Mission headquarters in Kabul where Gen. Nicholson replaced outgoing US and NATO forces commander Gen. John Campbell.
Top military and civil leaders from US, NATO, Afghanistan and Pakistan and diplomats from various countries attended the ceremony.
Chief Executive Officer Abdullah Abdullah, acting Afghan Defence Minister Masoom Stanekzai, Afghan National Security Advisor Hanif Atmar, Pakistan Army chief Gen. Raheel Sharif, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph Francis Dunford and United States Central Command (CENTCOM) commander Gen. Lloyd James Austin III were present at the event.
In his address, Gen. Nicholson thanked NATO representatives for standing by the US after the September 11, 2001 attacks on “the homeland.”
“We, the American and NATO forces and our partners, are here in this country as a result of the events in 2001, on 9-11, when we were attacked in our homeland by terrorists who were guests of the Taliban.”
He said the first victims of these many, many decades of conflict were the Afghan people. “I have lost soldiers and friends and people who I love in this conflict and this is true of many of the American and NATO soldiers who are here today.”
He said there was no Afghan citizen and family that had not felt fear and loss in these last decades, calling the Afghans the real heroes.
“I believe that all who have fought bravely within the Afghan Security forces and the coalition are heroes. But the real heroes of this conflict are the Afghan people.”
To the enemy, he said: “You have brought only hardship and suffering to the Afghan people. It is time for this to end, time for you to lay down your arms and join the future.”
He said NATO had helped the Afghan people for well over a decade and was committed to an enduring relationship with Afghanistan.
He said Gen. Austin had emphasized that the United States was committed to an enduring relationship with Afghanistan. He mentioned US President Obama as saying that “Americans commitment to you (Afghans) and to a secure, stable and unified Afghanistan remains firm.”
For his part, outgoing US and NTO forces commander Gen. John Campbell said today was not about change, but about continuity.
“The Afghanistan Security Forces are less than 10 years old. Think about that for a minute, they largely began as an unorganized collection of militia and developed into a modern security force.
He said the Afghan forces had proven resilient and continued to make significant strides so much so that they were often unfairly compared to other much older militaries.
“I am proud to call you brothers and sisters in arms, as well as friends. We, too, have experienced many difficult moments together…and it is because of your dedication, … what I see in you, … and in the eyes of young Afghans when I speak to them, that I have hope.”
But he said as much as reflecting on the past was important in reminding how far they had come together, they must also remain clear-eyed about what lied ahead.
“Changes in the enemy situation, the Afghan government, the Afghan Security Forces themselves, and the region are all creating a confluence that demands our attention, and our support.”
Campbell said the Afghan people were also changing and more and more citizens were rejecting the old ways of tyranny and were looking toward the promise of a new era.
He said there was still much work to be done. The Afghan forces had come far, but they still needed their help, he said.
“We must remain flexible in our planning to see this mission through a successful conclusion. The Afghan Security Forces’ desire to improve and their resilience warrants our continued support in the critical years ahead.”
He said Afghanistan was on the frontline of the international effort to counter terrorism and it were Afghans who often paid the price of violent extremism and terrorism.
“As I depart, I want to remember the Afghan and coalition fallen. They form the foundation that a peaceful and prosperous Afghanistan is built upon.”
He said he believed in the future of Afghanistan and would remain steadfast in his support for the need to maintain their commitment to Afghanistan.
Nicholson, 58, took over command of around 13,000 international troops, including 9,800 Americans, amid an escalation in the insurgency.
Nicholson served in Afghanistan three times between 2006 and 2012. Most recently he was commander of NATO’s Allied Land Command in Izmir, Turkey. -Pajhwok