Shortly after BettyC put up her post yesterday about the President announcing by tweet that he had first invited the Taliban to a final round peace agreement negotiation and signing ceremony at Camp David and subsequently cancelled the invitation because the Taliban killed several US military personnel last week, I texted* the following to her:
I give it 50/50 odds that there was no actual, formal Camp David invite. The Afghan president was supposed to visit the US this week to meet with the President at the White House, but cancelled that trip on Friday. The Taliban’s spokesperson tweeted out yesterday that there are lots of potential next steps, but never mentioned this at all.
Pompeo’s statement that we’ve killed 1,000 Taliban in the past week makes no sense either. There would have been wall to wall coverage and Brian Williams would’ve been airdropped into Nangahar if we’d mounted an offensive large enough to net 1,000 enemy KIA. We’d also have taken our own share of casualties. None of which has been reported.
My guess is that by Wednesday will have several articles, from WaPo, the Times, Politico, Daily Beast, and Axios, that basically shred both of these assertions. The President’s invite and Pompeo’s assertion about killing 1,000 Taliban.
We now know, thanks to reporting by The New York Times, that there was a formal invite to the Taliban, but that the entire plan for the Camp David trip had been hastily created because the President decided on an impulse or whim on Labor Day weekend that if he could get the Taliban to Camp David he could seal the deal. And while the reporting doesn’t really delve into whether this would be a good thing for Afghanistan or Afghans, it does make clear that the President thought this would be good for his campaign for reelection. Given that the negotiations are not complete, the Taliban are clearly not completely on board (more on this in a paragraph), the Afghan president and government isn’t actually involved, this wasn’t a fully baked idea.
Secretary Pompeo then went on Chris Wallace’s Fox News Sunday show and in an attempt to demonstrate how tough the administration is being on the Taliban and announced, without any corroborating evidence, that the US has killed 1,000 Taliban (fighters?) in the past 10 days. To be very blunt, if we had, as Secretary Pompeo announced on Chris Wallace’s Fox News Sunday show, killed 1,000 Taliban in the past ten days it would have made news. Even if the Commanding General of Operation Resolute Support or the Commanding General of CENTCOM wanted to keep this as locked down as possible, there would have been, as I texted BettyC, wall to wall coverage and Brian Williams would’ve been airdropped into Nangahar if we’d mounted an offensive large enough to net 1,000 enemy KIA. We’d also have taken our own share of casualties. None of which has been reported in addition to the KIAs we took in the attacks on Kabul last week.
All of this sturm and drang and equine and canine extravaganza is obscuring something even more important. That as bad as it is that the US is still conducting combat operations in Afghanistan after almost 18 years, ending this part of America’s forever war preemptively will make things worse, not better. Unless the US can reach a negotiated settlement that is able to secure the Afghan government and the Afghan citizenry, reaching a deal with the Taliban just so someone can tout “promise made, promise kept” during the 2020 campaign the US will have failed to secure the peace. The sole point of modern interstate conflict, as well as modern 3rd party participant low intensity warfare**, which is what the Afghan war against al Qaeda and the Taliban have been, is to use conventional and unconventional military power to establish the conditions to secure the peace post cessation of battlefield hostilities. Reaching an agreement with the Taliban that is solely about reaching an agreement with the Taliban, even if it returns several thousand American troops home in short order does not do meet this requirement.
The Taliban have made it very clear that they believe the Afghan government is a “stooge government”. This Taliban position has made completing the negotiations with them very difficult for Ambassador Khalilzad. The Taliban, as well as others in Afghanistan, have often remarked to US military personnel that “you have the watches, we have the time”. They know that eventually we, as well as our NATO coalition partners in NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan (NTMA-A) have to come home. And they are simply waiting for that to happen. This is part of the reason that they’ve escalated their offensive activities over the past several weeks. Both because they perceive that the President wants out – despite assertions made about them, they’re not stupid, they read our newspapers and watch our news programs – and because it allows them to increase the pressure on Khalilzad and his negotiators. The Taliban’s recent offensive escalation is part of their negotiation strategy, not something being done in spite of it.
Any agreement we reach must include the Afghan government, not be the precursor to the Taliban negotiating with that government. A government they consider to be illegitimate. A government that they will escalate their war with as soon as we have too few troops in theater to do anything but hunker down in our fortified bases. This will not make Afghanistan safer, it will not make the region safer, and it will not make the US and our allies and partners safer. I am not arguing for the forever war. I am arguing for a strategy that uses our and our coalition allies’ combat, training, and advise and assist missions in Afghanistan to set the conditions to secure the peace. We have, several times, made progress towards doing this. Unfortunately that progress never stuck for a variety of reasons. The whole point of invading Afghanistan to depose the Taliban and root out al Qaeda was to change the dynamic. Signing a peace agreement with the Taliban simply to be able to check a box for a reelection campaign that ignores that the dynamic hasn’t been shifted, that we have not established the conditions to secure the peace, is a peace agreement that isn’t worth the paper it is printed on.
* We do not have a slack channel.
** I am using low intensity warfare to refer to two related types of war. The first is all forms of war short of interstate war. The first usage, all forms of war short of interstate war, refers to revolution, rebellion, civil war, insurgency, and terrorism. The second refers to types of war: irregular, asymmetric, unconventional, and guerrilla warfare (a type of irregular warfare). Insurgency and terrorism are both forms and types of ear and belong in both categories.