Photo by Sergei Chirikov
US involvement in Afghanistan is a complex problem, a problem that three presidents have not been able to solve. 17 years after the initial invasion, and the situation remains just as perplexing and opaque. The events of the past few weeks demonstrate the inherent dichotomy of modern Afghanistan. The country is currently suffering a surge of violent attack perpetrated by the Afghanistan Taliban, as the increased levels of violence leading up to the election have not abated. Last Tuesday, in a 24 hour period the Taliban carried out nine attacks in different parts of Afghanistan, killing or wounding dozens of soldiers and police officer. The Taliban continued to inflict heavy causalities throughout the week, attacking various difference provinces, overrunning various checkpoints and headquarters. Even Afghanistan’s most elite troops, the Special Forces commandos, suffered heavy casualties last week. They had been airlifted into Jaghori, considered Afghanistan’s safest rural district, to help stop a series of Taliban attacks, who had broken a longstanding truce concerning this district. By Sunday, nearly their entire company had been killed or wounded and Jaghori faces the significant possibility of being overrun by the Taliban.
For many Afghanis, any sense of pride in participating in the recent election has been overcome by a renewed sense of fear, as the Taliban demonstrated their continued ability to seemingly strike at will, unimpeded by the presence of Afghan security officials and police. The government’s failure to ensure the safety of its citizens no doubt brought many out to the polls, and the recent levels of violence seem to corroborate that belief.
The paradox of events is seen in the fact that after a week of some of the worse violence in years, the Taliban accepted Russia’s offer to attend an international meeting in Moscow, with the intent of ending the current conflict. These Russian-led talks are controversial themselves, with neither the United States nor the Afghanistan government wanting Russia to lead any sort of peace initiative. Despite these misgivings, representatives from the United States attended the talks in an observer status. This attendance has added significance due to the fact that the United States is also currently attempting to engage in direct talks with the Taliban, with the recent news that Taliban officials met with a senior US diplomat in Qatar in July. While the Afghanistan government is not attending in an official capacity, members of the government-appointed High Peace Council will be there. The council’s purpose is to lead reconciliation efforts with the Taliban, so their presence is not a surprise. They have meet with the Taliban at other forums in the past, although never for formal talks.
The Russians are not attempting to obscure the idea that they are stepping in to solve a problem the United States has failed to address. Russia’ presidential envoy for Afghanistan, Zamir Kabulov, said on Friday, the first day of the peace conference, that “the presence of the US and NATO hasn’t only failed to solve the problem but exacerbated it”. Despite giving assurances that Russian efforts are driven by legitimate security concerns and not a desire to undercut the US effort that is simultaneously underway, this event is unlikely to be viewed positively by the US strategists. While at the event, the Taliban reiterated its stance that it would refuse to negotiate with the Afghan government, believing it to be a puppet of the United States. To negotiate the end of the war, they demand to enter talks directly with Washington.
On Monday, while this peace conference was underway in Moscow, the Taliban killed dozens of security forces in the province of Farah. It is difficult to believe that the Taliban are sincere in their claims of wanting to negotiate a peaceful end to the war, especially one that the United States and international community would find acceptable. The recent increase in attacks may be the Taliban demonstrating their position of strength before the peace conference. These attacks could be the Taliban making the statement that, despite 17 years of hostilities, they are willing and able to continue the violence and conflict.
With the United States growing more and more weary of this seemingly endless conflict, the Taliban may hope that these attacks are enough to finally convince the United States to admit defeat in Afghanistan and withdraw from the country. However, they run the risk of further entrenching the view held by many in the US military that a US withdrawal from Afghanistan would lead to complete Taliban takeover, which would in turn lead to disastrous consequences across the region.