Afghanistan summit: Why is the US backing talks with the Taliban?
Heading into this week's summit of Afghan allies in London, the top US general in Afghanistan said he supported President Hamid Karzai's plan to reach out to the Taliban.
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Many Sunnis thought Al Qaeda, once seen as righteous warriors fighting the foreign occupation, had gone too far. That divide created the room the US needed to drive a political wedge between Sunnis and Al Qaeda.Skip to next paragraph
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It was at that point that the work of Lt. Gen. John Allen paid off. As a one-star general, he had spent much of his time in 2006-07 in neighboring Jordan, encouraging tribal sheiks who had fled Anbar, to return to Iraq. That encouragement led many Sunnis to flip and agree to work within the new, Shiite-led government.
Such negotiations have a bad reputation in places like Pakistan, where past Pakistani governments had repeatedly reconciled with Taliban fighters , only to see cease-fires dissolve. But those negotiations had been essentially a capitulation to the enemy to extricate the Pakistan Army from an unpopular and costly war, experts say.
How reconciliation might work in Afghanistan
McChrystal has long supported reconciliation and reintegration done right: National-level reconciliation is needed to welcome some Taliban leaders back into the Afghan political process in some form, and reintegration is the “peeling away” of Taliban foot soldiers who no longer choose to fight.
“Insurgencies of this nature typically conclude through military operations and political efforts driving some degree of host-nation reconciliation with elements of the insurgency,” McChrystal wrote in his strategy document.
The military’s position has always been to distinguish between the “reconcilable” and “irreconcilable” enemy. The US military considers most high-level enemy leaders irreconcilable because of their deep, ideological positions. Other leaders, however, may be persuaded to stop fighting if there is something in it for them.
Foot soldiers, meanwhile, may be fighting Afghan and international forces simply to earn money for their families and can sometimes be easily reintegrated politically. The London summit may begin by targeting these elements, reports suggest.
High-level political reconciliation will likely not occur until the Taliban recognizes it has nothing to gain in continuing to fight. For his part, Mullah Omar, the head of the strongest faction of the Afghan Taliban, believes the insurgency is still strong.
“We are more likely to bring insurgents in from the cold if we are arguing from a position of strength, and we are not there yet,” says John Nagl, a counterinsurgency expert and author.
But Mr. Nagl, president of the Center for a New American Security, a think tank in Washington, believes that NATO is beginning to turn things around. Drone attacks have diminished the Taliban’s command-and-control capabilities and created dissension within the ranks, Nagl says.
Ultimately, political success may be dictated by progress on the battlefield. In coming months, more of President Obama’s 30,000 surge troops will be headed to Afghanistan. Meanwhile, Marines in Helmand Province are preparing to mount a battle in the Marjeh district, a Taliban holdout.
When that battle takes place in the coming weeks, thousands of Marines will move into the area to root out as many as 1,000 Taliban. The outcome could have an impact on when US and Afghan forces gain the upper hand on the Taliban.
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