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.