‘Tired’ Taliban fights on as US is desperate to leave Afghanistan

Over the weekend, President Donald Trump repeated the canard that the Taliban is tired of fighting, and that is what is driving it to the negotiating table. Political, military, and intelligence leaders, as well as analysts and experts on Afghanistan have been claiming the Taliban is exhausted from fighting for at least 15 years. And yet the Taliban fights on while the US is desperate to leave.

Trump made the worn-out claim about the purported exhaustion of the Taliban during an interview with CBS News:

And it’s time. And we’ll see what happens with the Taliban. They want peace. They’re tired. Everybody’s tired. We’d like to have- I don’t like endless wars. This war. What we’re doing is got to stop at some point.

Trump is right about one thing: the US is certainly tired of the fight in Afghanistan. This is why Zalmay Khalilzad has been appointed to negotiate the terms of US withdrawal, and ultimately surrender, with the Taliban. But, as 17 plus years of fighting in Afghanistan has shown us, the Taliban is anything but tired.

Reports of a “tired” Taliban can be traced back to 2004, when the Christian Science Monitor quoted Al-Hajj Mullah Abdul Samad Khaksar, the group’s former interior minister who renounced it.

“Most of the local ordinary Taliban are tired of fighting, they are eager to come back to the country and live here in peace,” Khaksar told CSM.

Yet within two years, the weary Taliban pressed an offensive in the south and east, taking control of large areas of the country that ultimately forced the US military to launch a “surge” of more than 100,000 soliders.

Fast forward to 2011, during the height of the surge. “Both the west and the Taliban are tired now and keen to move toward a resolution,” The Guardian told us. The worn-down Taliban were sure to enter peace talks and settle with the US and Afghan government.

Not so much. By 2013, Russia Today was telling us that the Taliban was “war weary” and was prepared to form a political party (the Taliban has explicitly stated elections are forbidden in Islam). Afghan expert Rashid Waziri said that “The Taliban are tired of war and it will be a step in the right direction if they launch a political movement.”

The Taliban never launched a political movement. Instead, it took advantage of the end of the US surge and the withdrawal of the bulk of US troops to begin retaking control of remote Afghan districts. Today, the US military admits that nearly half of Afghanistan is controlled or contested by the Taliban (FDD’s Long War Journal maintain that is the best case scenario, and estimates that more than 60 percent of Afghanistan’s districts are contested or controlled by the Taliban.)

Two years later, General John Campbell, who then led US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, talked about a sapped Taliban in May 2015, which was ready for peace. From Sputnik News:

The Taliban are tired from fighting for 14 years and want to get on with their lives, Campbell argued, so they might be ready and willing to engage in peace talks with the Afghan government.

That same exhausted Taliban overran Kunduz City several months later, and held it for more than two weeks before US troops were forced to intervene.

One year later, a Taliban commander who admitted that he likely killed US troops, told The Washington Post that the Taliban is tired and its fighters would lay down its arms if only they could get jobs.

“The Taliban are tired and will join if the government pays them, and if the government provides jobs for them,” Hanafi said.

The US attempted to pay thousands of Taliban fighters to quit the fight. The effort failed. In late 2016, the beaten Taliban again overran Kunduz City.

There are numerous other examples of reports of a tired and broken Taliban that is desperate to cut a deal to end the fighting and participate in an Afghan government. Yet this supposedly worn out and ground down Taliban continues to fight on and gain ground, while the US announces that it will withdraw from Afghanistan before peace talks even begin, thus granting the Taliban a major victory. If this is what a tired Taliban looks like, a well rested Taliban would be a handful.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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18 Comments

  • Marc says:

    As soon as the extraneous effort and expense to curate a manicured grassy knoll ends, the native vegetation regains space lost to artificial transplants is due course. And natives never get tired of being native. Laws of nature must be respected.

    On a lighter note, what happens to the journal after the eponymous was ends?

    • Marc says:

      I meant to write eponymous war (not was).

      • Verneoz says:

        Your effort, at being considered intellectual or cerebral, while being dismissive were a success. The reasons this war has lasted 18 years are many, but here are a few of the obvious ones. Presidents Bush & Obama were fighting this war to not lose, and not to win outright. US forces have lost no battles or firefights, but total destruction of the enemy, and his will to fight have eluded the warfighters. Why? For strictly political reasons, both placed undo Rules of Engagement on the warfighters which the enemy took advantage of. US forces were never permitted to use all the tools in the toolbox, i.e. these examples: gator mines, Commander Solo aircraft, and never fully utilized economic warfare & advanced psychological war propaganda operations. They both permitted “nation building” to become the centerpiece of US strategy. US forces are not trained for nation building.

  • ark says:

    they live there! they are fighting for home! usa out asap!

  • Ismail Farooq says:

    India must dropping bricks, since it has invested so much in Afghanistan and it will all vanish into thin air. 17 years of enjoyment by India is coming to an end, better buckle up cuz Pakistan will take revenge for each & every attack India was involved in.

  • Hclombs says:

    Spreading of this ideology is a Global threat.
    Either their way, or the highway. Islam is World destabilising. Adherents can’t agree on sects, will not assimilate where planted, seek World domination, hate Christians and Jews, have repeatedly wanted ” Israel off the
    Map.
    The US in these areas help stop this ideology from spreading as is a Virus.

  • cdor says:

    The fact that the Taliban continue fighting is not proof that they wish to continue fighting. It is also not proof that fighting is synonymous to breathing. Both things may be true as well. One thing we know for sure, Afghanistan is their home, not ours. They have no place to go. We do. And, as such, lacking any clear cut goals with a means to achieve them, go home is exactly what we should do.

  • Richard Löwe says:

    we Trumpists are not tired of winning in the US and the Taliban are not tired of winning in Afghanistan. Like they have for 150-odd years. I have been commenting here for years: not one penny, not one drop of blood for bringing civilisation to islamic lands. If they start exporting terrorism, bomb them to allah with drones.

    • Gary Kerns says:

      I totally agree. We are NEVER going to convert radical Islamists. Remember 2003, how the rationale for our being in Iraq seemed to change weekly? Oh, yes, we were told they’d welcome us with open arms, that it would be a veritable heaven on earth. I don’t THINK so!

  • Saarland says:

    I can’t really add much here because there isn’t any easy answer, but we don’t have much in common with the Afghan way of life and we found our target in Pakistan. Change must come from within.

  • DEVENDRA SOOD says:

    The Taliban are too dense and 7th Century creatures and they believe that it is their religious obligation to keep on fighting till they have vanquished the non-Muslim. If even we have a reasonable (Dream On) neogtiated agreement and we leave Afghanistan; the agreement won’t amount to the piece of paper it is written on the day after. Islam teaches Muslims that it is OK to lie to a Kafir and there is no sin in that.
    The only way that agreement woud amount to any thing would be if we left a remanance of a token force to see the Taliban comply.And, the Taliban would never accept that because they know they will cheat and if American troops are there, they can not, with impunity.

  • AL says:

    It seems to me the only solution is to pen-up all of Afghanistan. Let them live on their own barbaric country until they themselves get sick and tired of it and are willing to fight the Taliban to the death. Or, they learn to like it that way. We cannot do that for them. Let them do it themselves or die trying. US did vs. the Brits. However, I think we should kill the poppy fields.

  • Steve S says:

    The assassination of Shah Massoud by al-Q continues to resonate. The Northern Alliance is gone, but the Taliban are now stronger than ever, despite huge leadership changes. As in Republic of S. Vietnam, the endemic and vast stink of corruption among the political elites & war lords diluted and wasted the effect of untold billions of dollars in U.S. aid and ruined any real progress with refugee rehabilitation. Due to limited infrastructure and the size of the country, even US trained units of Afghan National Army are over-matched and relatively ineffective without sophisticated air power and rapid mobilization techniques, which greatly diminished with the gradual US/NATO draw down. In short, the long term prognosis is bleak, as whatever the Taliban tells us to sweeten our exit, their sincerity is certainly more than questionable.

  • John says:

    The Taliban are a militia levied from the Umma. The individual Taliban fighter is a militiaman levied from some village or mosque. Most of the Taliban are of the Durrani, and they aren’t particularly great fighters as a rule. They tend not to be as fanatical as most of the usual Jihadi elements in that they aren’t all tripping over each other to get killed. The vast majority of these guys just want to survive the fighting season and go back home. The leadership, though, isn’t so average. Leaders are your more classic Jihadi as far as ideology goes, but only certain (usually lesser) Leaders are actually out in the field. The Taliban is always a religious organization, and it will always be in Jihad. Truces or peace agreements are only to delay long enough to get sufficient strength back or fool your enemy into relaxing. These are doctrinal Muslims emulating Mohammed in everything. The system fits with the traditional Pashtun warlord system that has been the norm in Afghanistan for generations, although it is more organized and stable and thus able to be much larger in scope. The idea that the Taliban are tired isn’t wrong. But the leaders are in this because it’s their culture. This is the classic Muslim way, it is the following of Mohammad, and it cannot be negotiated with, it will not see reason, it will not stop. The only reason, the only logic, is what Mohammad did in his life. America may wish to negotiate with someone and make peace, but the Taliban are incapable of doing so. There is no peace except the peace of slavery for all the world. This has been openly stated again and again throughout the history of Islam, and recent years are no exception. You might wish to believe that the Taliban, AQ, and ISIS are different, but if you listen to them, they are working toward the same thing. When you watch them, you will see they are doing the same thing. The warlord system isn’t a Pashtun thing, it’s a Muslim Lashkar thing. All these different groups aren’t really different groups, they’re different units. Jihad isn’t all fighting with bombs and guns, it’s total war in every medium. That’s political, ideological, physical, economic, etc. Winning is the pre-ordained result of Jihad, and winning means everyone alive on this planet is a Muslim. That’s what we’re up against. Negotiate a peace in Afghanistan? That’s just granting another area of Dar-Al-Islam, a place ceded to the Muslim faith, uncontested by any other. A withdrawal, in the eyes of the Umma, is a victory for Islam, and will inevitably draw more fighters to expand the area of influence. Whether America is tired or just bored, the import of this must be recognized for what it is.

    • Peter C. says:

      Absolutely spot on! For 1400 years. It waxes and wanes but nothing has really changed whether it is the Taliban, the Almohads in Spain or the Seljuk Turks in SE Europe. The modern Western liberal cannot stand to believe this. So they just scream ‘Islamphobia’! and run away with hands over their ears or worse yet attack the messengers of this dismal truth.

  • Khadr Trudeau says:

    If Afgan’s are not willing to fight for their country, why should American’s?

  • Peter Corrigan says:

    There is always a vague sense of surprise and perhaps derision among the writers of Long War Journal about the reality that the U.S. does not want to stay in that hellhole forever (as much as I admire their efforts to keep us informed of something actually important, unlike CNN & Company who are too busy looking to manufacture another outrage over MAGA-hats). Other respondents have already said it, the Islamists will never stop trying to impose their ‘vision’ on that country. Unless and until the Afghan people rise up and smash them, which they never will because a huge number (possibly 50 or 75 percent?) are basically in agreement with the goals of the Taliban. I would like to see LWJ do some in-depth reporting and analysis on what the prevailing views of the Afghan people actually are.

    • John says:

      There aren’t “Afghan people”. That’s a misnomer applied by the West. Afghanistan isn’t a country as we understand that word. It’s a Western name for a physical area on Earth, but it is not a country and the people that reside there are not involved in anything resembling a Nation as we understand it.

Iraq

Islamic state

Syria

Aqap

Al shabaab

Boko Haram

Isis