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US officials give up on prospects for peace deal with Taliban



The 'let's negotiate with the Taliban' crowd in Washington and Europe must be fighting off a major case of depression today after reading this report at The New York Times. An excerpt:

With the surge of American troops over and the Taliban still a potent threat, American generals and civilian officials acknowledge that they have all but written off what was once one of the cornerstones of their strategy to end the war here: battering the Taliban into a peace deal.

The once ambitious American plans for ending the war are now being replaced by the far more modest goal of setting the stage for the Afghans to work out a deal among themselves in the years after most Western forces depart, and to ensure Pakistan is on board with any eventual settlement. Military and diplomatic officials here and in Washington said that despite attempts to engage directly with Taliban leaders this year, they now expect that any significant progress will come only after 2014, once the bulk of NATO troops have left.

"I don't see it happening in the next couple years," said a senior coalition officer. He and a number of other officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the delicacy of the effort to open talks.

"It's a very resilient enemy, and I'm not going to tell you it's not," the officer said. "It will be a constant battle, and it will be for years."

And so yet another pillar of the Obama administration's Afghanistan strategy collapses.

You can be sure the short knives will be out to cast blame on one party or another for sabotaging the negotiation efforts (the NYT report lists two villains: Congressional opposition to freeing five al Qaeda-linked Taliban leaders; and the 'moderate' political wing of the Taliban being outmaneuvered by the radical 'military' wing).

But the Taliban were never serious about negotiations to begin with. I've long argued that the US truly had little idea as to the real intentions of the power brokers within the Taliban, and often were talking to former Taliban wannabes attempting to peddle influence (like Mutawakil and Zaeef), or in one case, a Taliban impostor. Additionally, I've pointed out that there has been no split between al Qaeda and the Taliban, and the Taliban were never willing to renounce the terror group and turn over its leaders.

Finally, I'm going to refer you to something I wrote in June 2011 on the issue of the 'surge' and its purported ability to batter the Taliban to the negotiating table. The apparent lack of will evidenced by a halfhearted, time-limited surge, combined with the availability of safe havens in Pakistan, gave the Taliban no compelling reason to abandon the fight:

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.

If you are interested, you can peruse the following Long War Journal and Threat Matrix articles on supposed negotiations with the Taliban:



READER COMMENTS: "US officials give up on prospects for peace deal with Taliban "

Posted by kill-em-all at October 3, 2012 12:17 AM ET:

Duh!!! Now declare war through congress and kill them all. Time to put resolve into this fight and end it by ALL means.

Posted by Kerry at October 3, 2012 12:33 AM ET:

They don't call Afghanistan "The Graveyard of Empires" for nothing. We should have learned from Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan, Timur, the Mughal Empire, Russian Tsars, the British Empire, and the Soviet Union's mistakes before we went over there and tried to accomplish what other empires failed to achieve which is to tame the Afghan people's determination to oppose foreign invaders.

Posted by sundoesntrise at October 3, 2012 1:35 AM ET:

I sincerely doubt this development will have any impact whatsoever on the upcoming elections. Americans have next to no interest in this war, so this isn't really a "defeat" or a "setback" for Obama in terms of re-election.

Mitt Romney of course will try to milk this for all it's worth, but I think that, during the debates, when he inevitably brings this up, Americans won't be able to make the connection, and they won't be able to see the significance of this development.

They'll just be sitting there going: "What? I don't care about that".

Posted by Warhawk at October 3, 2012 7:28 AM ET:

The Afghan and Pakistani Taliban ratbags are "a very resilient enemy," said a senior coalition officer belonging to the Military Alliance that nearly 70 years ago, DEFEATED the Nazi and the Imperialist Japanese through shear decimation of the enemy's civilian population. If the US and NATO militaries have been rendered an INEFFECTIVE fighting force in small scale wars due to the "Laws of Wars" and the Geneva Convention, then maybe its time they pay someone else to do the job. For a bill of $17 billion dollars a month that the US spends in the Islamic cesspools of Afghanistan and Pakistan, they could've hired the entire Syrian Army capable of ERADICATING the Taliban within a matter of 6 months. The Russians, too, were doing a fine job taming these Islamists in 80s until the CIA and Mr. Wilson screwed it all up. Now our boys are standing "Shoulders to Shoulders" to be SHOT in the back get BLOWN to pieces in vain, all so the Military Industrial complex at home to continue to profit billions. But whatever, this is just a ramble from disgruntle combat veteran of the no longer greatest fighting force on earth.

Posted by Bungo at October 3, 2012 8:31 AM ET:

Reality is a cruel mistress. It'd be pretty hard to negotiate a deal when you've already told the enemy when you're leaving and that you won't send troops into the enemy's safe haven. The absurdities are astounding....and any competant Afghan security force is self delusion. Chalk it up to another hard lesson learned. At least we got some good kills. I say we whack Omar and Al Zawahiri and call it a day.

Posted by john at October 3, 2012 10:04 AM ET:

Our goal in Afghanistan was never to get rid of the taliban. Al Qaeda was and is the target, specifically to prevent attacks on the Amercan homeland.

Let's stop conflating impossible and unrealistic goals. Afghans don't understand us. Our soldiers don't understand or respect them.

If Afghanistan (or Pakistan or wherever) resume a role as bases for attacks on the USA then go back after them on that basis.

Posted by Charu at October 3, 2012 11:50 AM ET:

Bill, you have provide a great service in repeatedly showing the shortcomings of the current Afghan policy. However, what is your solution to the situation we find ourselves in? It can't be to just walk away from the Graveyard of Empires - some graveyard this; repeatedly overrun by empires who never felt it economically worthwhile to stay. Even the satisfaction of taking out Mullah Omar and/or Al Zawahiri is not going to prevent a resurgence of AQ-inspired jihad in these badlands and potentially threaten the US mainland again. Especially if they believe that they have defeated two super powers consecutively. What are the policies and strategies that you believe should be employed at this time to bring this long war to a successful conclusion?

Posted by gb at October 3, 2012 1:04 PM ET:

These peace talks have been a one sided negotiation, I'm amazed that the state department actually takes them seriously. The intent of the Taliban is a society dominated by the strict interpretation of the Koran. They are patient, and any so-called "peace" terms would simply be used by the Talibs to grow stronger. There is no real internal threat to their existence, this Afghan government is doomed once the ISAF troops pull out.

Posted by Mr T at October 3, 2012 1:29 PM ET:

What does Karzai have to say about all this? It's his neck on the line when we leave. He's ok with all that?

By the way, it's Pakistan that is the problem here. Afghanistan was defeated. The Taliban ran next door and have been working their way back in ever since.

Posted by Paul D at October 3, 2012 5:17 PM ET:

Who funds the taliban?

Follow the money and you come up with Saudi,UAE and Pakistan the same countries that wanted the Taliban in charge Pre 911

Posted by JRP at October 3, 2012 6:58 PM ET:

Any meeting for a peace deal would only be an ambush anyway ala FOB Chapman CIA debacle of December 2009 I think it was. So best we don't let any of our HVTs anywhere near them.

Posted by DonM at October 3, 2012 7:51 PM ET:

There are two questions remaining as this war proceeds into and after 2014.

The first is whether there is agreement for a potent level of US special forces, and trainers of Afghan special forces? And is what is left enough to keep Pakistani regulars on their side of the border? Also is it enough to keep the Afghan special forces confident? Is it enough to keep the drones in the air?

Once the US draw down is complete, it is inevitable a major campaign will occur, where much of the Taliban puts their nuggets on the table. The second question is whether the mass of Afghan armed and other security forces are trained well enough, and have enough unit cohesion, to stave off capitulation. It is not a matter of whether they can defeat the Taliban outright. They just have to prove to the Taliban they can't be defeated. Proving that with minimal America presence is what will divide and demoralize the Taliban.

Posted by mike merlo at October 3, 2012 8:14 PM ET:

If nothing there's something to be said for Bill Roggio, TLWJ & its many contributors for being 'spot on!'

Posted by Port Blair at October 4, 2012 3:50 AM ET:

@Charu you have pointed out a serious flaw glad
you did it. Leaving AfPak will be the biggest mistake
it will convince 95% of Pakistanis that the infidel
can be defeated without any price. And you get to
keep your nukes and 300% of your attitude.
"graveyard of empires" - is a simplistic term , they never really beat anybody
people just gave up because they did not think far
ahead in time . There will have to be still massive US presence
to preempt a nuclear version of 9/11. Analysts who think Pakistan's nukes will not go to AQ are mistaken. Of the 90 odd warheads they have some will get directed in shipping containers bound for the ports in the west and the rest at India. OBWH has deliberately ignored the risks of withdrawal
with a hundred nukes in the hands of the most volatile of all countries in S. Asia.

Posted by Davis alp at October 4, 2012 4:27 AM ET:

currently declare war through congress and kill all of them. Time to place resolve into this fight and finish it by ALL means that.

Posted by Paul at October 4, 2012 12:31 PM ET:

You cant negotiate with the monkey ie Taliban,AlQ,Haqquani etc.You need to negotiate with the organ grinder ie Pak army!

Posted by Michael Gold at October 4, 2012 9:48 PM ET:

The Taliban have only two weapons they can use with any effect at all; roadside bombs and insider attacks. The allies have made amazing strides at defeating the roadside bombs, and this new enemy weapon of insider attacks will take time to defeat, but it will be defeated. As we all opine about it, what do you think Gen. Allen is doing, picking his nose? Have some faith in our military leadership. And yes the Afghan forces will be able to defeat the Taliban beyond 2014. If we pulled out today they could do it now. There's almost 350,000 Afghan forces, better trained, better equipped and more organized than they ever have been. The American men and women who've served in Afghanistan have left a good impression, they've shown a better way of life and they've proven they don't want to stay in that country a day longer than necessary. The Afghan people know this and support the cause. The Taliban have already lost this war, the only thing that remains is how many innocent Afghans will die in the decades to come at the hands of a defeated Taliban. And remember what it was all about - ensuring this country will never again be used as a terrorist epicenter. Does anyone not think we've accomplished this already?

Posted by James at October 5, 2012 12:43 AM ET:

@Kerry,

Please tell me, when did the "Chosen of the Occupiers" (which is Afghanistan) become the "graveyard of the empires"?

Oh, that's right, only when neocon George Will (of the Wall Street urinal) declared it as such.

You should ask him, why now? This is the guy that kept quiet as a mouse during the previous admin. Only after a democrat took office did he spread this absurd rendition (and historical revision) of world history.

Haven't we been down this road before?

It's very similar I might add to what Daniel Elsburgh did with the [so-called] "Pentagon Papers" fiasco (i.e., he waited until a republican (Richard Nixon) took office).

This proves the maxim that politics is just another dirty word.

Posted by Charu at October 5, 2012 6:21 PM ET:

@Paul, partially correct. But you don't negotiate with the organ grinder, you make the Pak army want to negotiate with you.