WASHINGTON — What now, Afghanistan?
Army officials say the story has not been fully reported and that the NATO-Afghan effort against the Taliban is driving them to the peace table. Meanwhile, the Taliban and ISIS are fighting each other in what some Pentagon officials likened to the gang battles of West Side Story.
All the while the elected government in Kabul fumes that it is excluded from U.S-Taliban peace talks — and report after report after report flows shouting how doomed the U.S.-led military effort continues to be.
At best a stalemate, some reports say.
“The United States has spent more on Afghan reconstruction and security force assistance than it did on the Marshall Plan following WWII — but it has precious little to show for it,” Gil Barndollar, a senior fellow at Washington think tank Defense Priorities, said Monday.
“While the ongoing negotiations have often been referred to as ‘peace talks’ — and the agreement alludes to a drawdown —complete U.S. military withdrawal should be the objective,” he said.
On Friday, President Donald Trump met with senior foreign policy and military advisers as reports swirled that 4,000-4,500 of the roughly 14,000 U.S. troops now in Afghanistan are ready to be withdrawn if an agreement is reached.
Washington is requiring the Taliban to agree to a ceasefire, renounce al-Qaida and other terrorist groups operating in territory under its control, and begin direct talks with the Afghan government.
“We’ll be bringing it (troop numbers) down a little bit more, and then we’ll decide whether we’ll be staying longer or not,” Trump told reporters before returning to Washington on Sunday, according to news reports. “We’re looking at Afghanistan. We’re talking to Afghanistan, both the government and also talking to the Taliban, having very good discussions. We’ll see what happens.”
Trump said he is wary about centering an agreement that has the Taliban essentially guarding U.S. interests.
“I’m not trusting anybody. It’s a horrible situation that’s going on in Afghanistan, it has been for many years,” Trump said, according to news reports. “Look, we’re there for one reason. It can’t be a laboratory for terror.”
ISIS has claimed responsibility for the suicide bombing of an Afghan wedding Saturday night that killed 63 men, women and children and wounded nearly 200 others.
Analysts at the Institute for the Study of War said last week that ethnic groups in Afghanistan — such as Tajiks, Uzbeks, and Hazaras — are readying for a possible civil war once U.S. and NATO forces depart Afghanistan. That would be a replay of what happened after the Soviet Union pulled out of Afghanistan in 1989, fighting that led to Taliban control and the safe haven for al-Qaida.
Barndollar said he is not optimistic.
“Peace is unlikely given the fragmented nature of Afghan society and the balance of power among rival factions, and more important, cannot be enforced by the U.S. either before or after its exit,” he said.
“The Taliban are untrustworthy, and any agreement is non-enforceable after a U.S. exit anyway,” he said. “What safeguards U.S. interests is deterrence by punishment: the ability to strike the Taliban should they facilitate harm to the United States, regardless of the state of the Afghan government and security forces post-withdrawal.”