Tony Karon writes: Don’t expect to hear about it in the presidential campaign debates, but the U.S. will leave Afghanistan locked in an escalating civil war when it observes the 2014 deadline for withdrawing combat troops set by the Obama Administration — and supported by Gov. Mitt Romney. The New York Times reported Tuesday that the U.S. military has had to give up on hopes of inflicting enough pain on the Taliban to set favorable terms for a political settlement. Instead, it will be left up to the Afghan combatants to find their own political solution once the U.S. and its allies take themselves out of the fight.
Washington has known for years that it had no hope of destroying the Taliban, and that it would have to settle for a compromise political solution with an indigenous insurgency that remains sufficiently popular to have survived the longest U.S. military campaign in history. Still, as late as 2009, the U.S. had hoped to set the terms of that compromise, and force the Taliban to find a place for themselves in the constitutional order created by the NATO invasion and accept a Karzai government it has long dismissed as “puppets.” This was the logic behind President Obama’s “surge,” which sent an additional 30,000 U.S. troops into the Taliban’s heartland, with the express purpose of bloodying the insurgents to the point that their leaders would sue for peace on Washington’s terms. But the surge ended last month with the Taliban less inclined than ever to accept U.S. terms as the 2014 departure date for U.S. forces looms.
Now, according to the Times, the best case scenario has been reduced to on in which, as a result of NATO’s training and armaments, “the Taliban find the Afghan Army a more formidable adversary than they expect and [will] be compelled, in the years after NATO withdraws, to come to terms with what they now dismiss as a ‘puppet’ government.” Some would see that as another in a long line of optimistic assessments. The Afghan security forces, or at least its ethnic Tajik core, may well find the political will to fight the Pashtun-dominated Taliban, and the means to prevent themselves from being overrun. But it’s a safe bet that the security forces will control considerably less Afghan territory than NATO forces currently do. [Continue reading…]