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Is the US really negotiating with the Afghan Taliban?



According to outgoing US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, the US is currently in talks with the Afghan Taliban. At least he thinks so.... From The New York Times:

In an appearance on CNN's "State of the Union," Mr. Gates cautioned that the talks were in such early stages -- having begun a few weeks ago -- that officials were still not certain the Taliban participants were genuine representatives of the Taliban leader Mullah Omar. He said the effort was being carried out by American diplomats but did not directly involve the Secretary of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton. And he said several other countries were participating, though he did not specify which ones.

"We have said all along that a political outcome is the way most of the wars end," Mr. Gates said. "The question is when and if they are ready to talk seriously."

We don't write about talks about talks with the Taliban any longer, because it always turns out that the US/ISAF, etc. are talking to wannabe Taliban officials who have long since been denounced by the Taliban, or to individuals who claim they are close to the Taliban leadership, or even with impostors.

On that last point, Gates admits he's not even sure the US is speaking to "genuine representatives of the Taliban leader Mullah Omar." Here's hoping they aren't like the "Mullah Akhtar Mohammed Mansour" impostor who fooled US and British officials last year into thinking he was the real deal.

Or perhaps they're again talking to Mutawakil, Zaeef, and company, who always seem to resurface at times like this. (For more about past follies with negotiations with the Taliban, see Threat Matrix report, Taliban talks and Groundhog Day.)

Regardless, it is curious that top US and NATO leaders believe that they can carry out high-level talks with the likes of Mullah Omar, as if the setbacks they have experienced the past year have been far worse than what the Taliban experienced during the US invasion in 2001-2002. The Taliban survived that onslaught, fled to Pakistan, regrouped and refitted, and pushed back into Afghanistan with a vengeance.

The US and NATO have already signaled that they want out of Afghanistan, and will begin the drawdown over the next several years. Even with the US pressure in Helmand and Kandahar the past year, the Taliban still control vast areas of the east and north, as well as pockets in the south. The Afghan security forces are far from ready to take control. The Taliban still have safe haven and state support in Pakistan. Regardless of the Taliban's losses in the past year, they are still in a far better position than they were in late 2002.



READER COMMENTS: "Is the US really negotiating with the Afghan Taliban?"

Posted by James at June 19, 2011 10:10 PM ET:

"We have said all along that a political outcome is the way most of the wars end," Mr. Gates said.

Read more: http://www.longwarjournal.org/threat-matrix/archives/2011/06/is_the_us_really_negotiating_w.php#ixzz1PmX6OW7q

That has to be one of the most ludicrous statements ever made.

Please excuse me while I have a "Paul Revere" moment.

Get ready, America, (if the "cut & run" crowd in DC have their way), for the next 9-11 attack(s), which may even be far worse.

Posted by Soccer at June 19, 2011 10:27 PM ET:

The Afghan war is lost in the current sense.

I always believed that the current way it is being fought is flawed anyways. We should have never tried to get the Afghans to accept us as an occupying force. Instead, we should have focused on a purely counter terrorism based mission that also involved giving aid to the Kabul government and having trainers embed with the ANA and ANP (and maybe ALP, although it might not have existed without Petraeus).

Going after specific Al Qaeda and other militant individuals on a kill or capture basis with forces specially trained to fight in that terrain was far more favourable to me than posing with Afghans in villages and pumping billions into a COIN doctrine that was never proven to have had the possibility of working in Afghanistan.

"Regardless, it is curious that top US and NATO leaders believe that they can carry out high-level talks with the likes of Mullah Omar, as if the setbacks they have experienced the past year have been far worse that what the Taliban experienced during the US invasion in 2001-2002. The Taliban survived that onslaught, fled to Pakistan, regrouped and refitted, and pushed back into Afghanistan with a vengeance.

The US and NATO has already signaled it wants out of Afghanistan, and will begin the drawdown over the next several years. Even with the US pressure in Helmand and Kandahar the past year, the Taliban still control vast areas of the east and north, as well as pockets in the south. The Afghan security forces are far from ready to take control. The Taliban still have safe haven and state support in Pakistan. Regardless of the Taliban's losses in the past year, they are still in a far better position than they were in late 2002."

I can still remember that onslaught very well, and how effective it was. Condoleeza Rice stated that Afghanistan was doing fine until about 2005 when the safe havens in Pakistan started to "bleed through" the border. We have to come to the inconvenient truth that our "ally" Pakistan is either completely incompetent, or is sheltering these animals. It's time to shift our attention to NWA, KP and FATA, and lay the smackdown on some terrorist behind. It's the only way the jihadist threat will ever be defeated. Right now, what we are doing is like constantly mopping the floor of our bathroom. Instead of mopping the floor, someone should call a plumber to come fix the overflowing toilet instead.

So, a counter-terrorist based strategy with an optimum number of special forces and trainers along with a set number of permanent airfields and FOB's seems the cost effective and war effective way to go at this point. Eliminate key leaders as well as terrorist compounds, caches and infrastructure, as well as pound safe havens in Pakistan, whatever way necessary.

Afghans have always been a rugged, isolated and individualist people and COIN has no place in a wild tribal society such as theirs.

That being said, of course we want out of Afghanistan, with our budget problems and our war weary population to consider. But a withdrawal from Afghanistan is not possible. Afghanistan is too important of a country to give up, and I think we might stay there for decades to come, as it is vital and necessary. A think tank suggested we go commando after 2014; we should go commando now, and simply end this charade of building a nation that doesn't want us being there in the first place.

http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2010/12/u-s-should-go-commando-in-afghanistan-after-2014-think-tank-urges/

You cannot talk to the Taliban. Does NATO have any idea of how much propaganda the Taliban spew out every day? How on Earth would you trust these people in these huge political talks with the alliance? Every second word that comes out of their mouth is a lie.

Posted by Paul D at June 20, 2011 4:16 AM ET:

Afghanistan is not the problem Pakistan is!

The Taliban/Jihadis are trained,educated and led from Pakistan.

Pakistan main export is terrorism which Saudi,China and the West finance directly or indirectly.Turn off the cash tap and this country will collapse.

The cancer is in Pakistan.Afghanistan was just the training ground for Jihadis pre 9/11.The training since has moved closer close to the source ie Pakistan.

The ideology is funded by Saudi and Global Islam front line is Pak Army/ISI and Iran Govt.

Posted by johnsay at June 20, 2011 10:42 AM ET:

Let's face it, this war is lost. The Taliban need do nothing except maintain pressure. To be honest I'm not sure why they even do that. They could just wait us out and allow us to declare victory and take over when we leave. Everyone knows we simply don't have the political will to slug it out long term in a hot war, particularly in a place where we have no economic interests. How quickly we have forgotten Vietnam and the Russian experience in Afghanistan. True, Afghanistan could once again be overrun by AQ but now there are other probable places they could concentrate in such as Yemen, Somalia and possibly any of the "Arab Spring" nations. We can't fight them all. We need to redefine and concentrate our efforts against AQ/terrorists. This should be an intelligence war of proxies, commandos and surgical strikes.

Posted by kulamarva balakrishna at June 20, 2011 11:00 AM ET:

Vienna,20-06-2011
This I think is not a place for developing policy ideas.We
are face to face threat reality.If I were an American I
would face threats from closer quarters than from long
distance away from changing ground realities. It is hard
to be away from home but take turns/shifting:Keeping
Afghanistan secure is in American long term interest.It
makes sense to me help develop Afghan national identity
unobtrusively.So long threat epi-centre is in nominal sovereign bad land, it is unwise to vacate proximity. I would consider any day Afghans are
dependable and understand a two way traffic.That includes
Dr.Hamid Karzai.
-Kulamarva Balakrishna

Posted by gandalf at June 20, 2011 1:03 PM ET:

The only legitimate goal of war is to get your enemy to stop fighting. We are fighting Pahktuns not just the Taliban. If they didn't have us, they would fight each other.

We are simply a better paying enemy, willing to pay for both sides of the fight.

They are like cats, getting one to agree to anything has nothing to do with any others.

Here's our strategy: 1. Act like walking cash machines. 2. Tell them we're pulling out while we build the 4 largest new bases in central Asia. 3. Support an absolutely corrupt central government. 4. Allow them to safely hide in Pakistan between attacks. 5. Protect their opium farmers but attack the processors and traders.

Why would any enemy want to talk meaningfully?

Does Cambodia, Thieu, Le Duc Tho have any meaning?

Posted by Observer at June 20, 2011 3:22 PM ET:

The Taliban are calling themselves the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan for a reason.

Not the Islamic Emirate of Southern Afghanistan like some people wish.

Posted by Don at June 20, 2011 11:21 PM ET:

Bill, just read an article in the Express Tribune, entitled "US establishes contact with Mullah Omar."
The article seems to incredulous to believe. Would like your opinion.
http://tribune.com.pk/story/188610/us-establishes-contact-with-mullah-omar/

Would also like your opinion on the following article from the New York Times:
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/27/world/asia/27taliban.html?_r=1

Posted by Don at June 20, 2011 11:21 PM ET:

just read an article in the Express Tribune, entitled "US establishes contact with Mullah Omar."
The article seems to incredulous to believe. Would like your opinion.
http://tribune.com.pk/story/188610/us-establishes-contact-with-mullah-omar/

Would also like your opinion on the following article from the New York Times:
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/27/world/asia/27taliban.html?_r=1

Posted by Zeissa at June 21, 2011 4:57 AM ET:

Afghanistan should have been turned into a colony, nothing less.
The West cannot win properly without its heart in the right place.
The war begins at home.

Posted by wallbangr at June 21, 2011 3:59 PM ET:

I agree with Soccer and like the article he linked to. Now that Obama has signaled a quicker pull out than many of the brass were pushing for, why not just "go commando"? Let the quitters quit and get the cut-and-run public off the backs of our politicians. Empty out the FOBS (save for a few key SpecOps and air assets installations), reduce our footprint with the local/hostile population, and let the American public do what they are so good at -- forgetting about Af/Pak and going back to their infatuation with mindless celebrity. Drop the charade about nation-building and COIN and start fighting the war we should have been fighting to begin with -- a "small war." Door kickers and pred strikes from the shadows. We've done it in the Horn of Africa and Columbia without kicking up a a whole lot of dust. We don't need the boot-dragging Big Army and all of the support personnel it entails. Establish smaller supply lines (less supplies needed) through countries other than Pakistan (Uzbeks would likely be less inclined to torch supply convoys). The press will leave and the erstwhile media fascination will lessen the strain of political issues with Karzai. Perhaps we can finally stop pussyfooting with the Paks. A chief concern whenever they talked tough about respecting sovereignty was that they would what -- support the Taliban? Torch our supply convoys? Ha! Perhaps this is overly optimistic on my part, and I likely won't get much traction on a thread that is a few days old, but I would be very interested on the thoughts of LWJ and of the more informed and thoughtful commentators here. Nobody is operating under the illusion that we were ever going to withdraw completely from Afghanistan. Why not make an orderly draw down, secure the essential assets needed for a small war and let the Taliban/ISI think the paper tiger cut and ran? The general public lost the stomach for this fight after the debacle in Iraq while the ISI/Taliban regrouped and re-infiltrated. Sure, it would have been nice to have a "mission accomplished" banner and a tidy, feel-good ending to the story. But that isn't in the cards. The afghans aren't going to stand up so we can stand down and we've been relying on our own enemies in Pakistan to do something that has been against their own hegemonic interests. We blew our chance for a Big Army victory. So why not give the enemy a taste of our own unconventional warfare capabilities? Without the constraints of COIN or the unrealistic expectations of nation-building, we can stop wasting our time with clear and hold strategies or trying to win over a population that never had their hearts or minds in the game anyway. I would be very interested in your thoughts and feedback on the possibility.

Posted by blert at June 21, 2011 6:19 PM ET:

Well it appears that Obama is un-surging Afghanistan.

Posted by Charu at June 22, 2011 4:03 PM ET:

Going commando is what Col. Ralph Peters also recommended. However, without the security of numbers in an unfriendly terrain, I fear that the hunters and killers could end up being hunted and killed themselves. Suicide bombings and renegade Afghans can take a toll.

The Taliban support comes primarily from Pakistan. At the moment the Pakistanis are not distracted enough to keep them from playing their duplicitous game in Afghanistan. However, if they get under serious pressure from the Pashtuns or the Balochis, they will rein in their terrorists to refocus.

This is exactly what happened in Kashmir; when the ISI's Eye of Mordor had to focus on Afghanistan, it was forced to ease down on Kashmir. Create a new front in Balochistan and the Pakistanis will not be able to sustain their double-cross in Afghanistan. If Balochistan gains autonomy, so much the better for an independent supply route into Afghanistan and to the Central Asian Republics.

Posted by Soccer at June 23, 2011 3:00 PM ET:

Charu, I don't think that is much of a threat. In 2001/2002/2003, we had very few special forces on the ground in Afghanistan and the casualties were extremely low compared to what they are now.

It is best to let the Taliban come out from hiding after we have given them a false victory, and then surgically and covertly POUND them when they are back in the Afghan mainlands. The bombing campaign of 2001-2003 was extremely effective at killing terrorists and making them run for their lives. It was an earth shattering bombing campaign, to say the very very least.

One thing I worry about is propaganda; they WILL score a HUGE propaganda victory from this, the terrorists will. I sometimes struggle to remove terrorist content from Dailymotion and other sites because there is so much of it. Will the extremist propaganda machine come out in full force once we start to leave?