NATO’s confirmation that its forces are facilitating talks between Taliban leaders and the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai is a sign that the Afghanistan balance could be shifting from warfare to settlement – and the eventual withdrawal of Western combat forces.
Though those conditions have clearly not yet arrived, NATO decided to guarantee safe passage to senior Taliban leaders taking part in the talks – though NATO is not taking part in the talks itself.
It is an indication that the surge has not progressed as planned, forcing the US and its allies to open the door wider to other options, says Lawrence Korb, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress in Washington and a former Pentagon official.
“What happened is that, even though we may have wanted things to move in a different manner, this is what Karzai wants and what he was determined to do,” says Mr. Korb.
The Western facilitation of the talks joins other recent pointers suggesting the war may be more “wind down” than “ratchet up” – with Western nations focusing on a military-to-civilian shift.
Among the signs:
“All of this,” says Korb, “means that the strategy has shifted more towards the political.”
Adding to the unease is a new spike in casualties among NATO troops. NATO announced that eight foreign troops were killed in five separate attacks Thursday, adding to the six foreign soldiers killed Wednesday. NATO did not immediately divulge the nationalities of Thursday’s dead.
Last December, Obama said he would hold a major policy review in a year to judge the strategy’s success. But events on the ground appear to have accelerated the administration’s timeline.
“Events have simply moved more quickly and overtaken whatever was said a year ago about a major review,” Korb says. “You can’t say, ‘OK, these things are happening, but we’re going to wait until December.’ ”
Some military affairs experts warn that succumbing to war fatigue could cost the US any chance for success in the war waged since 2001.
The US is far too focused on quick exits and short-term goals – and as a result risks squandering the sizable investments it has already made in blood and treasure, said Anthony Cordesman, a national security analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, in a new report entitled “Grand Strategy in the Afghan, Pakistan, and Iraq wars.”
“The Administration and the Congress can debate deadlines for beginning US withdrawal like mid-2011, but it will take far more strategic patience than this to achieve any form of success,” Mr. Cordesman writes, suggesting another four to five years at least.