White House Shifts Afghanistan Strategy Towards Talks with the Taliban

BY Herschel Smith
4 years, 4 months ago

From The Guardian (The report is fairly lengthy, but it’s important to read it all.  Stay tuned until the end for a very special surprise!):

The White House is revising its Afghanistan strategy to embrace the idea of negotiating with senior members of the Taliban through third parties – a policy to which it had previously been lukewarm.

Negotiating with the Taliban has long been advocated by Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, and the British and Pakistani governments, but resisted by Washington.

The Guardian has learned that while the American government is still officially resistant to the idea of talks with Taliban leaders, behind the scenes a shift is under way and Washington is encouraging Karzai to take a lead in such negotiations.

“There is a change of mindset in DC,” a senior official in Washington said. “There is no military solution. That means you have to find something else. There was something missing.”

That missing element was talks with the Taliban leadership, the official added.

Barack Obama, apparently frustrated at the way the war is going, has reminded his national security advisers that while he was on the election campaign trail in 2008, he had advocated talking to America’s enemies.

America is reviewing its Afghanistan policy which is due for completion in December, but officials in Washington, Kabul and Islamabad with knowledge of internal discussions said feelers had been put out to the Taliban. Negotiations would be conducted largely in secret, through a web of contacts, possibly involving Pakistan and Saudi Arabia or organisations with back-channel links to the Taliban.

“It will be messy and could take years,” said a diplomatic source.

Earlier this year Richard Holbrooke, Obama’s special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, distinguished between “reintegration”, which the US supported, and “reconciliation” or negotiating with senior Taliban. Holbrooke said: “Let me be clear. There is no American involvement in any reconciliation process.”

The US has no agreed position on who among the leaders of the insurgency should be wooed and who would be beyond the pale. The Taliban leader, Mullah Omar, would be a problem as he provided Osama bin Laden with bases before the 9/11 attacks.

The US would also find it problematic to deal with the Pakistan-based insurgents led by Sirajuddin Haqqani, whose group pioneered suicide attacks in Afghanistan. The third main element in the insurgency is Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who has hinted he is ready to break ranks.

A source with knowledge of the process said: “There is no agreed US position, but there is agreement that Karzai should lead on this. They would expect the Pakistanis to deliver the Haqqani network in any internal settlement.”

The US has laid down basic conditions for any group seeking negotiations. They are: end all ties to al-Qaida, end violence, and accept the Afghan constitution.

A senior Pakistani diplomat said: “The US needs to be negotiating with the Taliban; those Taliban with no links to al-Qaida. We need a power-sharing agreement in Afghanistan, and it will have to be negotiated with all the parties.

“The Afghan government is already talking to all the shareholders‚ the Taliban, the Haqqani network, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, and Mullah Omar. The Americans have been setting ridiculous preconditions for talks. You can’t lay down such preconditions when you are losing.”

Some Afghan policy specialists are sceptical about whether negotiations would succeed. Peter Bergen, a specialist on Afghanistan and al-Qaida, told a US Institute of Peace seminar in Washington last week that there were a host of problems with such a strategy, not least why the Taliban should enter negotiations “when they think they are winning”.

Audrey Kurth Cronin, a member of the US National War College faculty in Washington, and the author of How Terrorism Ends, said talks with Mullah Omar and the Haqqani network were pointless because there would be no negotiable terms.

She said there could be talks with Hekmatyar, but these would be conducted through back channels, potentially by a third party. Given his support for jihad, she said, “it would be unreasonable to expect the US and the UK to do so”.

Asked how Obama’s Afghan strategy was progressing, a senior former US government official familiar with the latest Pentagon thinking said: “In a word, poorly. We seriously need to be developing a revised plan of action that will allow us a chance to achieve sufficient security in a more sustainable manner.”

Officials have mentioned possible roles in negotiation for the UN and figures such as the veteran UN negotiator, the Algerian Lakhdar Brahimi, who heads, along with the retired US ambassador Thomas Pickering, a New York-based international panel which is looking at such a reconciliation.

Another name mentioned is Michael Semple, an Irishman based in Boston at Harvard’s Kennedy School who has extensive contacts with the Taliban.

Michael Semple?  Bwaaaaaahahahaha … gasp … Bwaaaaaaahahahahahaha … (gasp, tries to catch breath, snortle, gasp) … Bwaaaaaahahaha.  Remember Michael Semple’s involvement in Musa Qala?  Let’s rehearse just a bit.  Semple was expelled from Afghanistan for back-channel negotiations with supposed mid-level Taliban commanders in an attempt to cause an uprising against hard core Taliban back in late-2007 and early-2008.

He was negotiating with one Mullah Abdul Salaam.  He promised to bring the tribes along with him in his revolt against the Taliban, and retake Musa Qala from the Taliban without so much as a shot being fired.  In reality, he and a few of his men cried like little girls and ran for cover.

There was no uprising. When Afghan, British and US units closed in on Musa Qala last month, Mullah Salaam stayed in his compound in Shakahraz, ten miles east, with a small cortège of fighters, where he made increasingly desperate pleas for help.

“He said that he would bring all the tribes with him but they never materialised,” recalled one British officer at the forefront of the operation. “Instead, all that happened was a series of increasingly fraught and frantic calls from him for help to Karzai.”

Instead of the peaceful, serene transition to a Taliban-free area, the battle for Musa Qala caused the loss of two NATO lives along with seven Soldiers from the 82nd Airborne being wounded.  Even after that, Musa Qala has been problematic, with the Taliban not going completely away.  The British are mostly hated around the Musa Qala area for the grand bargain, and are blamed for the lack of security.

Note the observations of the Pakistani diplomat.  We are “losing.”  We are losing because we lack a clear strategy, are looking for the exit, and lack the will to project force.  This strategy of reintegrating the Taliban is absurd because there is no reason to reintegrate if they are winning (or if they have the perception that they are).  Furthermore, none of the main actors mentioned in the report above are going to reintegrate or accept the conditions necessary for a government that is free of alignment with globalist Islamists.

This strategy is only further indication of the depths to which the morale of this administration has sunk.  That Michael Semple’s name has come up is a depressing landmark for the trail of confusion down which we are stumbling.  The desire to disengage from Afghanistan has become desperate, and this desperation will only further hurt military morale.  No one wants to die on the way out of a war.

Prior reading on Musa Qala:

One Kilometer Outside of Musa Qala

British Hated Because of Musa Qala

The Example of Musa Qala

Our Deal with Mullah Abdul Salaam

Musa Qala: The Argument for Force Projection

Update:

For more reading, Joshua Foust deals with Michael Semple in:

A Children’s Treasure of Worthless Experts

Talking About Negotiations First is Exactly Backwards

Update #2: Jules Crittenden finds himself in agreement with Taliban propaganda.  I think he’s right.

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  • davod

    “A senior Pakistani diplomat said: “The US needs to be negotiating with the Taliban; those Taliban with no links to al-Qaida. We need a power-sharing agreement in Afghanistan, and it will have to be negotiated with all the parties.”

    How nice of the Pakistani’s to suggest that the US negotiate with its proxy with a view to a power sharing arrangement. I am sure the Northern Alliance and all minorities in Afghanistan will be delighted.

    I believe this is what the French wanted when they suggested a peace conference for Iraq.

    I believe this was one of the suggestions for Iraq of the Iraq Study Group.

  • davod

    On a more distant but related matter – Sharia law.

    I do not understand why the US and its allies agreed to Sharia as the basis for the law in Afghanistan and Iraq. Some time ago I attended a meeting where someone from the US State Department seemed to welcome Sharia as the law of the land in those countries. I did read that one of the major Iraqi Shia clerics (I forget his name) was pretty insistant on the separation of religion from government. I just wonder how hard the Allies pushed for a more neutral law.

  • Pingback: Jules Crittenden » Re-Tooling

  • TSAlfabet

    You know what this is starting to feel like?

    It is starting to remind me of football coaches meeting after their latest blow-out loss in an 0-10 season, trying to come up with something, ANYthing that might generate a spark of life in the team or put points on the board.

    Obama and his “enfants jolie” are sitting around scratching their…heads and throwing stuff out: “What about…Mike Semple?” “Are you kidding?” says another. “Why not?” is the reply,”We gotta try something.”

    The solution is not complex. We make it extremely clear to Karzai (privately) that he can keep the chips he has won thus far in the game, but from now on the house rules have changed and he will assume purely figurehead status henceforth. The U.S. will take full control of all battle space without any interference of any kind from Karzai or his cronies. Anyone interfering in U.S. ops will be considered hostiles and treated accordingly. The U.S. will hire and train its own crop of local security and government as it sees fit in each city and district. Corruption will not be tolerated and Karzai’s cronies must pack up and head back to Kabul. Oh, and by the way, that August 2011 deadline? That ain’t happening anymore. We are going to kick their insufficiently wiped Taliban butt wherever we even get a faint whiff.

    No better friend, no worse enemy. Afghans will learn that just like Iraqis.

    Same speech to Pakistan, too. If you cannot or will not take care of the Haqqani bases in the FATA, then we will, with as much discretion as we can, but with all the necessary force. Do not think about interfering. Failure to control your own border is an outright abdication of sovereignty, so don’t start complaining if we violate it, repeatedly. (Which is exactly, by the way, the lesson that Mexico has learned from the U.S. government for the past 20 years or more).


You are currently reading "White House Shifts Afghanistan Strategy Towards Talks with the Taliban", entry #5246 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Afghanistan,Musa Qala,Obama Administration and was published July 21st, 2010 by Herschel Smith.

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