WASHINGTON, D.C. — More than half of Taliban terrorists may be open to peace negotiations with the Afghan government, the top commander of American and NATO forces in Afghanistan told U.S. lawmakers.
U.S. Gen. John F. Campbell did acknowledge that Haqqani network, which has been behind many of the attacks on U.S.-led troops in Afghanistan, and members of al-Qaeda in Afghanistan do not welcome peace talks. He also warned about the rise of the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) in Afghanistan.
“The estimates I’ve heard, both from an Afghan perspective and probably from the intel community, is anywhere between 60 and 70% [who are] potentially reconcilable on the Taliban side,” Gen. Campbell told the House Armed Services Committee on Thursday.
“You probably would not have Haqqani, who continues to be an enemy, and is dangerous to both the coalition [and] the Afghan civilians because they attack civilians; they’re the ones that are responsible for the high-profile attacks in Kunduz,” added the general. ”Haqqani probably would not reconcile, and there’s probably members of A.Q. That would not reconcile.”
He noted that some dissatisfied Taliban insurgents are not interested in making peace with the Afghan government while others, angered by the appointment of Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour as the new Taliban leader, are switching their loyalty to ISIS.
“I think reconciliation talks will continue, but it’s going to take some time to bring the right people to the table, be that the Taliban currently are a little bit in disarray based on who’s in charge,” Campbell told lawmakers.
“I think it’s going to take a good couple of months before we see them coming back to any kind of peace negotiation,” he added .
Afghanistan has experience a Taliban resurgence since President Obama and NATO ended their combat mission in Afghanistan at the end of last year. Civilians and the country’s security forces have sustained a record number of casualties at the hands of the Taliban, which has recently made significant territorial gains.
Gen. Campbell pointed out that Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has “spent a lot of political capital” to try to bring Pakistan into the reconciliation process.
Ghani “has not seen a lot in return, therefore he’s taken, again, a lot of challenges from within his own government, but I think he’s been very courageous in how he has reached out,” said the top commander in Afghanistan.
It is going to take both Afghanistan and Pakistan working together to make reconciliation a reality, said Campbell. Ghani has repeatedly said that the peace talks will be led by his government.
Currently, Afghanistan is at a “critical juncture,” said the general.
Afghan security forces are unable to take on the many challenges they face on their own, acknowledged Campbell.
“If we think that this is going to be cleared up in a couple of years, we’re fooling ourselves,” he noted. “We have to position ourselves to ensure that we can do everything we can to mitigate this impact.”
“Ultimately, I’m convinced that improved leadership and accountability will address most of their deficiencies. But it will take time for them to build their human capital,” added Campbell, referring to the Afghan security forces, which includes army, police, and militia units.
President Obama said in 2014 that the U.S. military would transition to a small embassy presence by January 2016.
However, Gen. Campbell declared that a lot has changed in Afghanistan since Obama made that announcement. Campbell suggested the U.S. should maintain a military presence in Afghanistan for years beyond 2016.
“The Afghans welcome the opportunity to share their destiny, but they still desire, need and deserve our assistance,” he said, adding, “Working together, we can be successful.”
“If we withdraw from Afghanistan, the security vacuum will arise and other extremist networks such as [ISIS] could rapidly expand and sow unrest throughout Central and South Asia and potentially target our homeland,” also said Campbell.
He suggested that if the U.S. abandons Afghanistan, other super powers may fill in the security vacuum.
“If we’re not there to provide influence, somebody else is going to be there, whether it’s Russia, China, Iran –you name it,” he said.
The U.S. has spent more than $60 billion in American taxpayer funds to develop the Afghan security forces since it invaded Afghanistan in October 2001. At least 2,215 U.S. service members have been killed in Afghanistan and another 20,030 have been wounded.