As Trump predicts victory, the Taliban are prepared to fight for another 16 years

The New York Times reports: The retired Afghan general is no friend of the Taliban: He is a Parliament member, an adviser to the Afghan president and a combat veteran. But he is also from Helmand Province, the heart of the Taliban insurgency, and knows people on the other side.

After President Trump’s speech, the general recalled a Taliban fighter who had taken up arms after six of his sons were killed, one by one. The same AK-47 was handed down to each. Then the father was killed.

“You don’t make peace with people like that,” said the general, Abdul Jabbar Qahraman. “You also don’t win by killing them, there are always more.”

After nearly 16 years of war, America’s longest, the Taliban are not only far from defeated, they are gaining ground. They also have evolved into a more tenacious foe than the one routed in 2001, making a United States military triumph seem more remote.

Ever since 2008, when Adm. Michael Mullen, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said “we can’t kill our way to victory,” the cornerstone of American policy in Afghanistan has been not about obliterating the Taliban but pummeling them toward peace talks. President Barack Obama’s Afghan surge of 100,000 American troops failed to do this.

Now, President Trump has asserted that the United States would yet achieve peace through victory. Despite that assertion, and far more modest troop commitments this time, the hope of tiring the Taliban remains the mantra repeated by American diplomats and the generals whom the president has empowered to execute his policy.

They have quietly repeated that hope even in the absence of any visible peace process since the latest serious effort at talks collapsed last year. Within hours of President Trump’s speech, the American military commander in Kabul made that clear.

“This new strategy means the Taliban cannot win militarily,” said the commander, Gen. John W. Nicholson. “Now is the time to renounce violence and reconcile. A peaceful, stable Afghanistan is victory for the Afghan people and the goal of the Coalition.”

As might be expected, the Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, scoffed at President Trump’s speech as “nothing new.” But many Afghans on the government side had a similar take.

“That’s the same strategy going on the last two decades,” said Jamaluddin Badr, a member of the Afghan High Peace Council. “He said we’re going to win, but he didn’t make it clear how we’re going to win.” [Continue reading…]

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