The United States Should Not Be Negotiating with the Taliban

A picture of Al Qaeda fighters in Afghanistan.

Al Qaeda continues to operate in Afghanistan. Negotiating with the Taliban plays into Al Qaeda’s long-term strategy. The Taliban cannot be trusted.

This Voice of America article providing on update on negotiations between the United States and the Taliban underscores the short-sightedness of Donald Trump’s foreign policy.  The Taliban have refused to negotiate with the government of Afghanistan because they (the Taliban) consider themselves the only legitimate government of Afghanistan.  The United States never formally recognized the Taliban as a sovereign government.  These negotiations have established a dangerous precedent that will come back to haunt U.S. foreign policy in the future.

The Taliban’s stated goals are admirable: they want peace and security for the people of Afghanistan.  Their preferred method of providing peace and security (as demonstrated through their history) is to conquer all of Afghanistan (ruthlessly murdering anyone who opposes their rule) and imposing their violent and distorted interpretation of Sharia law on the Afghan people.  Although the Taliban did suppress or push back most of the warring factions in Afghanistan for a few years, their “officers” regularly robbed, murdered, and rape innocent Afghan civilians by the thousands during their period in power.

And the Taliban also formed an alliance with Al Qaeda, giving Osama bin Laden permission to establish bases in Afghanistan.  Al Qaeda’s unholy war against the United States has never made any sense.  Osama bin Laden turned against us because we sent troops to defend Saudi Arabia against Saddam Hussein’s rolling army in 1990.  The mere presence of U.S. troop on Saudi soil triggered this insane war.  Most Muslims throughout the world accept that the United States was honoring a long-standing mutual defense treaty.

There is nothing to be gained from negotiating with the Taliban.  The idea that we’ll be able to bring our troops home and pretend we’re at peace with the forces of terrorism is complete nonsense.  Barack Obama all but wiped out the gains he accomplished with the surge (that he only reluctantly agreed to) by announcing a withdrawal deadline and pulling most of our troops out of Afghanistan.  He proved to the Taliban that they only need to be patient and persistent in order to accomplish their goals.

As far as the Taliban are concerned, negotiations are a strategy to test the will of the United States and to wear down our resolve even further.

If the Taliban don’t admit defeat they will only take any concessions from the United States as a sign that they should take the next move toward re-establishing control over Afghanistan.

The Taliban are paying lip service to the Afghan constitution.  Constitutional law means nothing to a dictatorial regime.  The Taliban’s brutality is directed toward the innocent civilians they claim they want to govern.  They attack and murder civilians every month.  That is what they did when they ruled most of Afghanistan.  That is what they are doing as they fight for control over the country.  Anything they say about the constitution throughout the process of these negotiations is meaningless propaganda.  They have no respect or desire for secular law and they would most likely force a rewrite of Afghanistan’s constitution once they have regained full political power.

No one should put any faith in the Taliban’s promises to uphold the rule of law.  The only rule they know is the rule of brutality.  They are proudly pointing to the fact that a fatwa proclaimed by 2,000 Muslim clerics had no effect on their morale of their followers.  The Taliban continue to defy Muslim law by murdering civilians.  If they won’t even follow the religious code they claim to honor, there is no hope they will honor a secular law.

The Taliban denounce the presence of foreign troops as an “occupation”.  This is a very liberal interpretation of the word “occupation”. U.S. troops are not directing traffic, arresting people, or enforcing local laws.  Our troops did do some of that after we took control of Afghanistan from the Taliban.  But at this point the only reason we maintain any significant forces in the country is to fight terrorists like the Taliban, Al Qaeda, and ISIS.

Technically, the U.S. government has refrained from declaring the Taliban to be terrorists.  That is a strategic mistake.  They are terrorists, plain and simple.  There are no “good Taliban”.  They are all bad.  They know what they do to the people who oppose them.  One cannot join the Taliban and not know they are attacking and harming unarmed civilians who only want to live peaceful lives.

The only occupation in Afghanistan is the Taliban’s occupation.  Afghans hate the Taliban and fear them.  The Taliban are not the heroes of Islam they pretend to be.  They are the villains of Islam, along with Al Qaeda (their allies) and ISIS (their rivals).

U.S. Policy in Afghanistan is Weak and Misguided

The Taliban are slowly carving up the countryside, conquering weaker districts in a classic military encirclement strategy.  They are surrounding Kabul, essentially laying siege to the nation’s capital.  In the end, the Taliban will be able to aim rockets and other artillery toward Kabul from at least three sides.  They will be able to cut off highways and control the flow of overland travel to and from the capital.

Worse, the Taliban will be able to direct anti-aircraft fire at the Tailban air force (not the strongest air fleet in the world) from virtually anywhere in the country.

Classic guerilla warfare strategy won’t defeat the Taliban.  They are well-funded and we have already seen in multiple previous wars going back at least to Vietnam that when a foreign power funds a guerilla force the guerillas can find endless supplies of troops and weapons.

President Trump has begun using sanctions and changes in foreign aid at an unprecedented scale.  His administration is withholding $300 million from the Pakistani military.  Unfortunately, that’s too little pressure coming too late.  An anti-American President now leads Pakistan’s civilian government and nothing has ever been done about the ISI’s support for the Afghan Taliban.  ISI is Pakistan’s semi-autonomous intelligence service.  Their end-game is to ensure that India cannot find an ally (and attack routes into Pakistan) in Afghanistan.

As the Taliban gain control over more districts throughout Afghanistan they create more political power for themselves both internally and externally.  With that power the Taliban maneuver a little bit closer toward defeating the government in Kabul via a military victory.

The Trump administration’s strategy now seems to be to negotiate a peace before Kabul is overthrown.  That strategy didn’t work in Vietnam.  It won’t work in Afghanistan.

The Only Strategy That Has Any Hope of Succeeding in Afghanistan

The Korean conflict is America’s longest running war.  We’ve maintained troops in Korea for 65 years.  Today there are nearly 40,000 troops in South Korea (nearly 3 times as many as we officially claim to have in Afghanistan).  The United States has demonstrated that it can make a multi-generational war with a brutal, hostile regime.  We need to make the same commitment to Afghanistan.

It would be far better for everyone but the Taliban if we do not partition Afghanistan with them.

That means the NATO alliance needs to take back the territory that the Taliban have conquered.  They need to ensure that the Taliban cannot weaken and demoralize the Afghan National Army and the Afghan National Police while they retrain and re-equip.  Despite numerous news stories pointing out the high rates of corruption and desertion in the Afghan security forces, one fact remains clear: more Afghans are willing to fight against the Taliban than are willing to fight for them.

That is a golden opportunity for long-term success.  We’re walking away from that opportunity as it withers under blistering superior Taliban strategy.

The only way to ensure that the Taliban don’t create another enclave for terrorism is to prevent them from ever ruling Afghanistan again.  They cannot be trusted to rule wisely or fairly.  They cannot be trusted to walk away from Al Qaeda.  They cannot be trusted to honor and respect foreign powers’ security needs.  When Al Qaeda launched the September 11 attacks President George W. Bush gave the Taliban an opportunity to turn Osama bin Laden over to face justice.  They refused.

Hamza bin Laden, the son of the founder of Al Qaeda, has vowed to take revenge against the United States.  He is actively fighting NATO forces in Afghanistan with Al Qaeda.  When the Taliban are in control of Afghanistan again we can expect Al Qaeda to begin planning and launching even more attacks against the west.

Yes, Al Qaeda affiliates continue to attack Europe and other countries, but “Al Qaeda core” is still located in and around Afghanistan and Pakistan.  A victory for the Taliban will be a victory for Al Qaeda.  Experts already fear that Al Qaeda may be stronger than ever before.  If that analysis is correct, Al Qaeda is using the Taliban as a proxy to fight their war against the United States.  They will declare victory as soon as the last U.S. troops leave Afghanistan.

You cannot fight a successful war with a tireless enemy by pretending that his proxy will bring peace and stability.  The Taliban remain a dangerous foe of the United States and its allies.  They will always be a danger to the Afghan people and to the rest of the world.  The only way to ensure they cannot support future attacks against the west is to defeat them militarily (again) by taking away the territories they have seized and this time staying long enough to ensure a proper Afghan government becomes strong enough to secure the area against future insurrections.