Afghan President Ashraf Ghani claimed on Monday that the Taliban are losing the war, insisting that Afghanistan is not seeking a negotiated peace “from a position of weakness.”
The Taliban currently control more territory in Afghanistan than during any other time since the conflict there began in October 2001.
Ghani’s assertion came as the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reports that U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration is considering pressuring Kabul into suspending the upcoming presidential elections, a move opposed by the Afghan president.
Citing people briefed on the discussions, WSJ notes:
The possibility of such a step, one of several options being considered by U.S. officials, is a sign of the urgency the administration sees in trying to broker a political breakthrough in a conflict that has bedeviled three successive American presidents, according to these people.
To urge a suspension of the April election, an idea these people said was raised by U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad in talks with various stakeholders and intermediaries, would be a contentious move after the U.S. has long promoted democracy in Afghanistan. Mr. Khalilzad’s office declined to comment on his efforts.
The justification for discussing a possible suspension involves elusive peace talks with the insurgent Taliban. Some American officials fear that the irregularities and protracted political turmoil that routinely accompany Afghan voting could paralyze or destroy any peace process that Mr. Khalilzad succeeds in launching.
Citing an unnamed Western diplomat, WSJ notes that the Trump administration is also considering creating a “governing coalition that would include the Taliban.”
The Trump administration has come out in support of Afghan President Ghani’s offer to the Taliban of a ceasefire and official recognition as a political group.
According to the U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), a watchdog agency, Kabul’s control over Afghanistan’s 407 districts has fallen to its “lowest level” since it began keeping track in 2015.
SIGAR revealed that terrorists, primarily the Taliban, control or contest 45 percent of Afghanistan.
Nevertheless, while speaking to a U.S. audience at the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University in Washington via video on Monday, Ghani declared, “The Taliban are not in a winning position.”
The Afghan leader acknowledged that “more than 28,000 Afghan forces have been killed in the past four years but that the [U.S.-backed Afghan] military will be able to retake territory as long as it has an air force and commando troops,” the Associated Press (AP) reports.
“He said most of the losses incurred by its security forces were in defending static positions, so the government was rethinking how it deploys its forces. Speaking on Veterans Day, the Afghan leader paid tribute to American sacrifices in Afghanistan,” AP adds.
At the request of the Ghani administration, the Pentagon has stopped reporting casualties incurred by the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF), which include police and military units.
However, on Monday “Ghani also offered a rare public accounting of the scale of the Afghan losses. He described how their casualties have risen sharply while U.S.-led coalition casualties have declined after Afghan forces assumed responsibility for combat operations in the country” at the end of 2014.
He said that while 58 American troops have paid the ultimate sacrifice in Afghanistan since the beginning of 2015, “In the same period, 28,529 of our security forces have lost their lives and become martyrs.”
The average number of ANDSF casualties from May to October “is the greatest it has ever been during like periods,” according to SIGAR.
A suicide bombing in Kabul claimed by the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) branch in Afghanistan and a deadly Taliban assault on districts in eastern Afghanistan as Ghani gave his speech suggested the Afghan government’s control over the war-ravaged country is slipping further.
Ghani is expected to oppose any U.S. proposal to halt the April 20 Afghan presidential elections.
“Continuity in a democratic process is a must, and any other proposal than the will of Afghans, which is outlined in our constitution, is simply not acceptable,” Haroon Chakhansoori, a spokesman for Ghani, declared, according to AP.
On Tuesday, the Afghan presidential palace issued a statement stressing that presidential elections will take place as scheduled.
In recent months, the Trump administration has boosted efforts to convince the Taliban to engage in peace talks with Kabul. Russia claims the U.S. has recently held “around ten” secret meetings with the Taliban focused on ending the more than 17-year-old war. Before the Kremlin’s allegation, there had only been two publicly known meetings between the Taliban and the U.S.
The meetings mark a significant shift in U.S. policy long sought by the Taliban. For years, the Taliban has demanded to negotiate directly with the United States, dismissing the Afghan government as illegitimate. While the Taliban has confirmed the two publicly known meetings, the Trump administration has refused to do so.
Although Ghani has offered to enter into talks with the Taliban without conditions, the terrorist group has repeatedly dismissed his administration as a U.S. puppet and refused.
“U.S. engagement is to ensure that talks with the Taliban result not in negotiations with Taliban but with talks, direct talks, between the Afghan government and the Taliban,” the president said Monday.