Monday, January 28, 2019

Peace or a Decent Interval?

Of course America doesn't want a long presence in Afghanistan. It is a peripheral theater in the war on jihadi terror only important because of its history as a sanctuary that prepared the 9/11 attacks. But Afghanistan is not the source of jihadi ideology, merely a place it is transmitted. So are peace talks just a means of getting out of our long war there?

I get nervous:

A senior U.S. government official, speaking after six days of talks between a U.S. team and the Afghan Taliban, said on Monday that Washington was committed to the withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan after 17 years of war.

The official, who declined to be identified, described "significant progress" in talks last week with Afghan Taliban militants in Qatar on a foreign troop pullout, but more negotiations were needed on a ceasefire and its timing.

"Of course we don't seek a permanent military presence in Afghanistan," the official said in the capital Kabul.

"Our goal is to help bring peace in Afghanistan and we would like a future partnership, newly defined with a post peace government," the official told Reuters. "We would like to leave a good legacy."

There could not be a withdrawal without a ceasefire, the official added.

I just don't know if a ceasefire undermines the Taliban and their drug gang funding source; or whether it is actually a shield against government attacks for that combination until we pull our (American and coalition) troops out, leaving the Taliban free to attack a government demoralized at losing our support after years of assuming it is behind them.

And I worry that the article frames the situation as worse than it is:
After being toppled by a U.S.-led invasion in 2001, the Taliban control about half of Afghanistan and are staging daily attacks amid the diplomacy.

The Taliban control or contest about half of Afghanistan. Their control is actually a far smaller portion. And the violence is actually fairly concentrated. So that article's framing makes it seem like our role there has been rather futile.

And the cost in lives of getting to this point is one reason I did not favor the Obama surges in Afghanistan. In addition to worrying about so many troops in landlocked Afghanistan, I worried about what we could do while we risked that and what we would have--after the added casualties--when our surge ended. Especially given that the Taliban retained a sanctuary in Pakistan as a matter of policy by our Black Sheep ally in Islamabad.

We hope our increased punishment of the Taliban with more air power will drive the Taliban to negotiate a better deal. But mere punishment of Taliban foot soldiers has little effect on Taliban leadership sitting in Pakistan or at the negotiating tables. Defeating the Taliban and taking their territory is the only thing that can do that. Or maybe JDAMs on their sanctuary living quarters.

UPDATE: Yeah, I'm worried the answer is the latter option:

Could we be seeing an end to the “forever war”? Is peace (possibly) at hand? Or would a deal represent nothing more than a dangerous retreat by a dispirited nation in the face of emboldened and energized enemies?

We can't end a war. We can merely walk away until greater defeat forces us to rejoin the fight--as we discovered in Iraq in that joyous interval of peace between our withdrawal in 2011 and the dramatic conquests by ISIL in 2014. As the writer states:

It’s vital to understand that peace does not necessarily require withdrawal. In fact, American troops have often been indispensable to keeping the peace after our worst wars. And as costly as those forward deployments are, they are far, far less costly than renewed combat. Keeping an American military force in Iraq in 2011 would have been far less costly than the city-destroying urban battles we’ve seen since America was forced to reengage in 2014. Keeping an American military force in South Korea has been far less costly than the likely catastrophe of a second Korean War.

The idea that we can trust the jihadis is a deadly error.