Taliban jihadists may be willing to abandon their long-held precondition that U.S.-NATO forces must completely pull out from Afghanistan before they agree to negotiate an end to the 17-year-old Afghan war, according to a retired United States colonel and former U.S. ambassador who quietly kickstarted direct peace talks between the Trump administration and the resilient terrorists.
“They said that if an inclusive government… wants [U.S.] forces to be in the country… the Taliban said they would be OK with that,” retired U.S. Army Col. Chris Kolenda told the Daily Beast.
Kolenda explained the strategy to bring the Taliban to the peace negotiation table he embarked upon with former Afghan veteran from the U.S. Department of State (DOS) Amb. Robin Raphel, beginning in November 2017.
“We were able to vigorously challenge their viewpoints and didn’t just accept what the Taliban told us. They said that if an inclusive government, after a political settlement occurs in Afghanistan, wants international forces to be in the country to train Afghan security forces, the Taliban said they would be OK with that because they’ll have participated in that decision,” the retired colonel declared.
Reportedly, the Taliban recognizes that Afghanistan as a whole is menaced by the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL), which the narco-terrorists group has been fighting since it officially established a presence in the country in early 2015.
More recently, Breitbart News noted that U.S.-backed Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF), including police and military units, have been fighting ISIS almost simultaneously with the Taliban, causing confusion as to which force is taking ISIS down.
In November 2017, less than half a year after U.S. President Donald Trump unveiled his Afghan war strategy to end the conflict, Kolenda and Raphel flew to Qatar to negotiate with the Taliban for the first time without the blessing or knowledge of the Trump administration.
Trump’s Afghan strategy primarily focuses on militarily pressuring the Taliban into realizing “reconciliation” with Kabul is the only “endgame” to the conflict, an approach that apparently continues to this day as the U.S. military pounds the terrorists.
Although both the Taliban and the U.S. military appear to acknowledge they are at a stalemate, the Trump strategy is beginning to pay off, even if only minimally. The Taliban lost territory between January and May for the first time since August 2016.
Paolo Cotta-Ramusino, an Italian quantum physicist who for five years kept a line of communication open with the Taliban, saw an opportunity for peace talks when the Trump administration was bombing the Taliban, including their opium and heroin cash cow, at a historic rate in November 2017 compared to the same month during the previous four years. Cotta-Ramusino also attended the recent unofficial meetings involving Kolenda and Raphel.
On July 23, at a high-profile meeting involving Kabul and the Taliban, a Trump official — namely the U.S. Department of State (DOS) top ambassador for South Asia, Alicia Wells — legitimized these efforts after the president, reportedly frustrated by the deteriorating conditions he inherited from his predecessor, approved direct talks with the Taliban
The president’s move marked a historic departure from America’s insistence on Kabul leading peace negotiations. While the establishment media accuses President Trump of negotiating from a position of weakness, the Taliban has lost considerable territory and there was a nearly 80 percent increase in U.S. strikes on terrorists in Afghanistan from the first half of 2017.
Wells meeting with the Taliban marked the first-ever direct U.S.-Taliban negotiation in the 17-year-old war. Direct negotiations with the U.S. were long sought by the terrorist group.
Last month, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stated the U.S. is willing to discuss the future of foreign forces in Afghanistan, refusing to describe the new position as an acceptance of the Taliban’s long-held precondition.
The U.S. came out in support of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s offer to the Taliban in February of a ceasefire and official political recognition for the group that was the primary culprit behind 2,272 American deaths and the maiming of 20,320 others on 9/11.
The Daily Beast reported that once it is seen as a legitimate element of the Afghan government, the Taliban would be comfortable with a residual presence of American troops:
The Taliban’s public position is—and remains—that the foreign military occupation of Afghanistan must end as a precondition for negotiations. But privately, the Taliban indicated an extraordinary flexibility, and even a theoretical openness to a residual U.S. troop presence.
If the U.S.-backed Afghan government amended the constitution, opened up the political system, and accepted Taliban participation, the Taliban negotiators said, they would entertain the idea that the resulting government could invite U.S. forces to stay. Those American troops could continue training Afghan soldiers—including, hypothetically, ex-Taliban commanders. At that point, they said, it wouldn’t be an occupation. They were even open to hosting U.S. surveillance listening posts.
Like other analysis of the ongoing potential peace talks, the Daily Beast ignored another possible threat to negotiations, one that has not been addressed in public by Washington, Kabul, or the Taliban. What will become of opium – Afghanistan’s top cash crop, which benefits both government officials and the Taliban to the tune of tens of billions of dollars, comprising nearly a third of the country’s gross-domestic-product (GDP)?
“There has to be a commitment that, through the peace process, the drug trade will stop — whether that will happen before or after the negotiations,” former Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) official who worked in South Asia Mike Vigil told the Diplomat last year.
“The institutional development of the Afghan government to respond to the narcotics threat and in the criminal networks behind them, you know, is very much an investment that we have made and will continue to make pushing Kabul to judicially punish traffickers involved in the drug trade,” said Wells.