Even as everyone is letting down their guard with the apparent end of the annual “fighting season” over, the Taliban reasserted itself with one of the largest attacks in years happened in Kabul: Kabul attack kills 13 Americans. The common perspective is that the war is about won and the recent attacks are the last gasp of a desperate foe.
Regardless of your personal position on Afghanistan, anyone would hope that the U.S. government’s plans for the country would compliment the stated desire to build-up Afghan National Security Forces, the rule of law, and governmental legitimacy.
My belief that current drawdown plans do not support the stated positions on Afghanistan are expressed in Negotiating with the Taliban (Armed Forces Journal, October 2011). A few excerpts will best articulate the conflicts between what we say and what we do:
There has long been a central tension in the Obama administration’s Afghanistan policy: The “necessary war” had an arbitrary withdrawal timeline. This tension has led to strategic ambiguity: The president rejected a troop increase of 80,000 troops, which would have been used for a strategy focused on success, and simultaneously rejected a strategy of only using targeted counterterrorism strikes, a policy of withdrawal. By attempting to politically reconcile both approaches, which are militarily complementary and not necessarily in tension, he signaled a willingness to do more but not enough to prevail. In other words, he sent more troops to war but not to victory.
The latter [June 22, 2011 President Obama] speech was taken as evidence that the president saw the killing of Osama bin Laden as a reason to leave Afghanistan more quickly, not an opportunity to double down and prevail. More evidence, in Afghan eyes, is the effort to hand over the security mission to local forces. Increasingly, the Taliban think they are winning.
[I]f the U.S. and Afghan governments offer political compromises such as power sharing, new elections or reconciliation opportunities, the Taliban will be inclined to agree, if only to accelerate their long-term return to power. Reintegration efforts that allow Taliban fighters to renounce violence in exchange for money and jobs are an excellent way for the Islamist movement to rest its military force until U.S. troop numbers shrink to the point that the Taliban can confront the Afghan government more openly.
The Taliban also have no incentive to provide the U.S. a face-saving withdrawal and every incentive to humiliate the U.S., if only to diminish the likelihood the U.S. will ever intervene in Afghan affairs again.
The Armed Forces Journal article is a stern warning of what is to come. Nothing could be more direct than the concluding thought:
As the U.S. withdraws from Afghanistan, the Taliban will reassert themselves slowly but persistently, until we wake up one morning and realize the country’s been lost.