Posts Tagged ‘Gen. Stanley McChrystal’

Making Peace With the Taliban

January 25, 2010

Western officials and Afghan President Hamid Karzai hope that a peace agreement can be reached with the Taliban as a way of ending the insurgency in his country.  The topic will almost certainly be discussed at an upcoming conference in London where world leaders will confer about the future of Afghanistan and the eventual withdrawal of foreign military forces from the war-ravaged nation.

Gen. David Patraeus, the head of Central Command, told reporters that “The concept of reconciliation, of talks between senior Afghan officials and senior Taliban or other insurgent leaders, perhaps involving some Pakistani officials as well, is another possibility” when it comes to counterinsurgency efforts.

Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top commander in Afghanistan, said “I think any Afghans can play a role if they focus on the future and not the past” after he was asked if Taliban leaders should be allowed to serve in government posts.

But the prospects of a broad peace deal with the insurgents are slim for two main reasons.  One is that the insurgency is comprised of muliple factions with different aims and interests, including Mullah Omar’s Taliban, the Haqqani network and Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin (HIG).  Mullah Omar and his comrades want to return to power in Kabul where they once governed before they were overthrown by the Northern Alliance with critical assistance from the US, whereas the Haqqani network is more like a criminal organization and HIG is a tool of warlord Gulbuddin Hekatyar.  All three factions have ties with Al Qaeda or have expressed support for the terrorist movement.  The situation is further complicated by the fact that various tribal leaders and other powerbrokers are connected with the insurgency out of loyalty, self-interest or fear, and it would be difficult for the central government to win their allegiance.

A second key reason that the outlook for a peace agreement is bleak is that the insurgents, many of whom are radical ideologues and hardcore nationalists, do not appear to be at all interested in laying down their arms.

Taliban spokesman Qari Mohammad Yousuf said “We cannot say how soon we will achieve victory.  Our mission is sacred.  Victory and defeat are in the hands of God.  But Afghans will defeat this regime as they did that of the Russian-backed regime.”

Mr. Hekmatyar also claims that the US will suffer the same fate in Afghanistan as the Soviet Union, which withdrew in defeat after 10 years of fighting guerillas.

Even if some sort of tentative peace pact or ceasefire were reached, it would likely be fleeting and merely give the Taliban and other anti-government forces the opportunity to regroup and rearm before returning to battle.  Offers of reconciliation may ultimately succeed in luring some low level fighters away from the insurgency, but militant leaders and most of their followers will probably reject such overtures for ideological, political and financial reasons.  Therefore, Western policymakers and Afghan officials should not be too optimistic that extending olive branches will bring an end to the war anytime soon.

The Karzai Problem

October 13, 2009

Doubts about the political legitimacy of Afghan President Hamid Karzai abound as the Obama administration is debating whether to send as many as 40,000 more American troops to Afghanistan.  Mr. Karzai claims he won the presidential election in August, but the outcome was marred by what Kai Eide, the top UN representative in Afghanistan, described as “massive fraud.”

The Electoral Complaints Commission, which was formed by the UN in accordance with the Afghan Electoral Law, is investigating reported irregularities.  But yesterday, Mustafa Barakzai, one of only two Afghans on the committee, resigned because he felt excluded from deliberations and thought that foreigners had an undue influence on the process, according to local news reports.  Grant Kippen, the head of the commission, said that such claims were invalid, but Mr. Barakzai’s resignation could ironically bring into question the legitimacy of the committee responsible for assessing the legitimacy of the election results.

Peter Galbraith, Mr. Eide’s former deputy, believes that the commission will probably declare that Mr. Karzai did not receive enough votes to avoid a runoff with his closest opponent, Abdullah Abdullah.  It is unclear if Mr. Karzai or the Independent Election Commission, which Mr. Galbraith referred to as a “pro-Karzai” organization, would accept such a conclusion and agree to participate in a second round of voting.  (More information about the Afghan electoral dispute can be found at http://www.cnn.com/2009/WORLD/asiapcf/10/12/afghanistan.election.resign/index.html)

In addition to allegations of election fraud, the inability of Mr. Karzai’s administration to provide security and basic services to Afghans, as well as rampant official corruption, have made it difficult for the government to maintain popular support.  Mr. Karzai is mockingly referred to as the “mayor of Kabul” because his authority is weak outside of the capital.  This lack of confidence in the Karzai regime complicates coalition efforts to neutralize the Taliban.  Winning the “hearts and minds” of civilians is a critical component of classical counterinsurgency doctrine, which Gen. Stanley McChrystal is trying to implement in Afghanistan.  Deploying more American troops there will not be sufficient to defeat the insurgency if the US does not have a legitimate political partner to work with in the war-torn country.

The Link Between the Taliban and Al Qaeda

October 8, 2009

As the Obama administration debates whether to send the 40,000 additional troops that Gen. Stanley McChrystal has requested for the war in Afghanistan, some officials are arguing that the US should focus mainly on attacking Al Qaeda members based in Pakistan rather than combating the Taliban.  They believe that the Taliban do not pose a direct threat to the US, in contrast with Al Qaeda, which still seeks to carry out attacks against America and American interests. 

Others say that the Taliban and Al Qaeda are closely linked by ideology and experience, and claim that the Taliban will give sanctuary to Al Qaeda in areas of Afghanistan that they control.  According to this thinking, counterinsurgency operations against the Taliban are critical for US national security interests.

It is probably true that the Taliban do not want to attack American targets outside of Afghanistan.  Taliban leaders have said that they have no desire to do so, and their only objective is to drive out foreign forces and retake control of the country in order to recreate an Islamic state.

But their pursuit of their goal will inevitably bring them into conflict with the US because America needs bases in Afghanistan, especially in the south and east where the Taliban are strongest, from which to launch attacks and intelligence-gathering operations against Al Qaeda militants in Pakistan.  The Taliban will not allow the US to maintain bases in areas they control, so preventing them from taking over large swathes of territory is essential for the counterterrorism campaign.

How closely the Taliban and Al Qaeda are linked is not completely clear.  How many troops are needed to contain the Taliban is also difficult to assess at this point.  But the Taliban and Al Qaeda should not be considered two completely separate threats.  There are reasons to believe that the Taliban might allow Al Qaeda to reestablish bases in Afghanistan if they come back into power, but even if they do not a Taliban takeover would still be a major setback for the American counterterrorism effort in terms of logistics, intelligence-gathering and direct action.