AKI reports of talks and a NATO withdrawal from a district, but this isn’t policy yet
American troops fire artillery near Musa Qala in Helmand province. Photo courtesy of SCANPIX/AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd. Click image to view.
With Pakistan’s surrender of North Waziristan to the Taliban and al Qaeda, and the pending negotiations in Bajaur agency, the security situation in eastern Afghanistan has been a major concern for NATO forces that have recently assumed command of the region. Attacks in the Afghan provinces bordering Pakistan’s North Waziristan have increased threefold since the waziristan Accord was signed in early September.
Syed Saleem Shahzad reports NATO is currently in talks with the Taliban in Afghanistan to cede territory to the tribal leaders in south and eastern Afghanistan. Mr. Shahzad quotes sources from North Waziristan as well as Mohammad Hanif, a “Taliban spokesperson” to confirm the talks are underway. Twelve districts stretching from Kandahar in the south to Kunar in the north would be subject to the agreement, according to Mr. Shahzad’s sources. Mohammad Hanif claims that “both American and Afghan soldiers had pulled out of an area in eastern Afghanistan, under a deal clinched with tribal elders, the second in a week.”
But, according to an unnamed American intelligence source, no agreement has been reached between NATO and the Taliban. Mohammad Hanif is a notorious Taliban propagandist that has a vested interest in promoting a Taliban victory in Afghanistan.
The proposal to withdraw from southern and western Afghanistan is just that, and there is fierce opposition from American military commanders and within the State Department, as well as within some NATO governments serving in Afghanistan. “The discussion is occurring within some elements of the British establishment and within some [unnamed] NATO countries” however the source stressed to me that this was not the universal view within Britain or NATO itself. Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty confirms the debate within NATO. “But a NATO spokesman in Brussels, James Appathurai, subsequently said the alliance is ‘looking carefully.’ He said NATO is ‘hoping and anticipating that the agreement will deliver results’ by ‘reducing the number of insurgents crossing’ the border ‘or [dampening] support for the insurgents and the Taliban crossing’ into Afghanistan from Pakistan. Appathurai cited “concerns” within NATO that support for the Taliban was still entering Afghanistan.”
France is said to be one of the nations violently opposed to negotiating with the Taliban under any terms that do not involve their surrender. The French were unhappy with British negotiations in the town of Musa Qala in Helmand province, where the British abandoned an outpost after cutting a deal obstensively with the local tribal elders. The current French proposal to withdraw over 200 Special Forces from the border regions is a response to the proposed talks with the Taliban.
The discussions about withdrawal and redeployment in southern and eastern Afghanistan highlight the difficult situation in fighting with a Coalition in Afghanistan. Many NATO countries have a serious concerns about taking casualties at any levels, and this risk aversion is impacting the execution of the Afghan mission. Public support in Britain for the Afghan mission is beginning to decrease, which only drives this casualty aversion.
Taliban leader Mullah Omar has released an Eid videotape declaring “the fighting will be increased … and it will be organized in the next few months.” If NATO cedes territory to the Taliban as Pakistan has done, it will. Taliban and al Qaeda can sense weakness, and will exploit it with further attacks to break the will of the NATO coalition.
Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.