Between burning Qurans and killing unarmed civilians, the image of the U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan is at a low point. Afghan President Hamid Karzai wants the coalition to withdraw from Afghan villages. To make things worse, the Taliban suspended negotiations with the U.S., and the U.S. should be worried.
The topics under discussion were minor, from prisoner exchanges to the opening of a Taliban office in Qatar. It was the Taliban's refusal to accept the preconditions that is troubling. They will not lay down their arms, renounce al-Qaeda, allow the Afghan government to participate, or accept the Afghan constitution. They smell victory. And with the condition of the Afghan military and government, if the U.S. and NATO forces don't defeat and dissolve the Tailban before they leave in December 2014, the Taliban may win and our ten years of blood, sweat, and tears may be for naught.
We're supposed to be at a "post-surge drawdown" point in the campaign, one where the coalition gradually hands over military responsibilities to Afghan forces. But joint operations are uneasy at best, as over the years, Afghan forces have killed over 70 coalition troops. They disregard standard security protocols such as building lockdowns after shootings, and lax recruitment practices encourage Taliban infiltration. We don't know if they're with us or against us.
The government is no better. Corruption reigns and justice is lax; the BBC cited an example of militia commanders who were suspected of extortion, robbery, and rape but never went to trial. Taliban courts are still available, even to residents of Kabul, and their justice, while severe, is swift and certain. Often Taliban justice is the only organized court available, as the government still exists more on paper than in reality in many remote areas while the Taliban never really left.
The U.S. holds out hope for negotiations to resume, and for the coalition's sake, we better be right. Otherwise, military victory becomes the only option, and troop reductions and Afghan intransigence will make military victory increasingly difficult. The Taliban know this, and are marking time until they can restore the regime that destroyed non-Islamic shrines, denied educational opportunities to women, and gave terrorists safe haven. The U.S. and NATO may well join the Soviets as failures in the country.
Photo Credit: The U.S. Army