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On Dealing With The Taliban (And On Claiming The Credit)

Posted by Steve Hynd on January 25th, 2010

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“Insurgencies of this nature typically conclude through military operations and political efforts driving some degree of reconcilliation with elements of the insurgency” Gen. Stanley McChrystal, “Initial Assessment“, August 2009.

It’s long been accepted wisdom in the US and UK that General McChrystal’s “surge” in Afghanistan was largely aimed at putting the Taliban on their back foot because only then would they come to the negotiating table; that they wouldn’t talk while they were winning and the allies had to “fight harder” to further Afghan reconcilliation. McChrystal, back in December, made the connection between the military surge and bringing the Taliban to the table explicit.

Shortly after Obama’s speech, McChrystal told reporters the 18-month timetable was enough time to build up Afghan forces and convince the people of this war-ravaged country that they can eventually take care of their own security.

He said the Afghan government and the coalition should also use that period “to convince the Taliban and the people from whom they recruit that they cannot win – that there is not a way for the insurgency to win militarily.”

At the same time, he said the U.S. should support the Afghan government in reintegrating militants.

“I think they should be faced with the option to come back if they are willing to come back under the constitution of Afghanistan – that they can come back with dignity,” he said. “If you look at the end of most civil wars and insurgencies, I think that everybody needs a chance to come back with dignity and respect and rejoin society. I think that will be important for us to look forward to.”

No-one seems to have bothered to tell Afghanistan’s Hamid Karzai that military success was a key ingredient, however, because he is plunging on with plans to have Taliban leaders removed from the UN’s sanctions list and now has both Petraeus and McChrystal’s hearty backing for reconciliation attempts.

Most of the ordered surge troops have not arrived yet (nor will they until the last third of McChrystal’s 18 month critical timeframe) and we certainly don’t have anything even approaching military success at present, according to a briefing by McChrystal’s own intelligence chief.

The briefing, which warns that the “situation is serious,” was prepared by Maj. Gen. Michael Flynn last month. His assessment is that the Taliban’s “organizational capabilities and operational reach are qualitatively and geographically expanding” and the group is capable of much greater frequency of attacks and varied locations of attacks.

…The 23-page briefing predicts that “Security incidents [are] projected to be higher in 2010.” Those incidents are already up by 300 percent since 2007 and by 60 percent since 2008, according to the briefing.

One section of the briefing is based on findings from the interrogations of captured insurgents. Those insurgents said the Taliban saw 2009 as the most successful year of the war, because violence had expanded and because the Afghan presidential election on August 20 was marred by low turnout and fraud.

Maybe Karzai knows something the experts in D.C. and London don’t. Perhaps Karzai has come to the key realization that it doesn’t matter to reconcilliation per se which side has the military upper hand, it only matters for who gets the best side of any deal. And that any deal which stops the fighting is better for Afghans than no deal at all. It certainly seems as if Western leaders, weighing years of fighting in Afghanistan against their own domestic priorities, may have decided that any bargain would be better than none at all, that it’s time to paper over the cracks and head for the exits.

But one has to wonder where McChrystal is getting his belief that ”we are already seeing progress from what we have implemented in the last few months”, as he told the Financial Times in an interview published today. Or indeed his assessment on the Taliban that:

I think that if we are capable of showing that they are not effective, then I think in a year they could look desperate. They will still be here, they will still have significant capacity for violence, they will still be able to intimidate much of the population than we want. But I think they will look like an entity that will be struggling for its own legitimacy.

It sounds very much to me like McChrystal is preparing the ground to claim that the surge he demanded played a key background role in reconciliation negotiations – in what will actually end the war – when in fact it won’t. In this case, McChrystal’s career needs match with allied political leaders’ need for a narrative that doesn’t admit to “cutting and running” in any shape or form, so expect this to be the received wisdom.

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to “On Dealing With The Taliban (And On Claiming The Credit)”

  1. khan says:

    What a stupid morons! Pashtuns are not “Lost tribes of Jews”. Anglo- Yiddishs should keep their noses out of there

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