WASHINGTON — The latest assessments of the war in Afghanistan fortify concerns that the Taliban is in an increasingly strong position on the battlefield and at the negotiating table as Washington struggles to find a way to peacefully end 18 years of fighting.
Zalmay Khalilzad, the top U.S. negotiator, is on his way back to Washington to consult on the next moves to spur a peace treaty. Earlier this year Khalilzad had projected a treaty would be ready by June 2019.
No deal was announced as the eight round of talks ended.
The talks ended as the Taliban continued to increase its military activity and attacks on civilians while brushing off efforts to have direct talks with the Afghan government. The government in Kabul continues to bristle at being excluded from the U.S.-Taliban talks, as unproductive as they have been.
“Peace is a highly uncertain option,” Anthony Cordesman wrote in an analysis released Tuesday by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington, D.C., think tank.
“There are no official descriptions of the terms of the peace that the Administration is now seeking to negotiate, but media reports indicate that it may be considering a full (troop) withdrawal within a year of a ceasefire, and other reports indicate that it is considering a 50% cut in U.S. military personnel even if a peace is not negotiated,” he wrote.
Concerns over the uncertainty of the future U.S. footprint as well as the state of the war are growing in tandem with other reports on the downgrading of the Afghan military.
Afghanistan security forces are in their worst state in years — almost completely on the defensive in much of the country, according to local military commanders and civilian officials, the New York Times reported, based on its investigation.
The Times noted what other military analysts have said: The Afghan military plan to aggressively go on the offensive in 2019 has failed. The ground situation remains what is know as a “checkpoint war,” with most regular Afghan forces in fortified bases and outposts, it said.
Most offensive operations have been left to small numbers of the highly-praised — but over-used — Afghan Special Operations soldiers, backed by U.S. special operations units and both countries’ air forces, Pentagon officials said.
The CSIS analysis combined reports and data from several sources, including the CIA and the Pentagon, in concluding that the Taliban continues to be a major threat and “that the level of violence inflicted by other movements and by terrorist organizations continues to be serious.”
The CSIS report said that while the Pentagon reporting seems to understate the levels of Taliban activity, all the others, including a CIA report, said the Taliban may be gaining.
“Broadly speaking, all of the reports describe a near stalemate,” the CSIS report said. “The differences are largely over whether this stalemate currently favors the Taliban.”
“None of these reports indicate that the Taliban is strong enough to seize control of the country or most of its major population centers, but they are a warning that the Taliban may be making serious progress even while the U.S. and Resolute Support forces are still present and actively supporting the Government in the fighting,” CSIS said.