October 5, 2012

U.S. State Department: Taliban Has The Ball

The New York Times recently reported that the Obama administration has lost faith in a direct political resolution between the U.S. government and Mullah Omar's Taliban. The first official response to this information (or possibly disinformation) is no less encouraging than the administration's current plan to hammer out a sustainable agreement. Forced to address the topic of "reconciliation" on Wednesday, the State Department's Victoria Nuland demonstrated why Afghanistan's war is more likely to rush past 2014 than end "on time," a ridiculous notion in asymmetric warfare.

”On the reconciliation side, as we’ve said for a long time now, we support an Afghan-led process, and there has been a lot of work done to prepare the ground for that. It’s really – the ball is in the Taliban court, whether they want to play or not.”

Putting aside the fact that Washington is exploring diplomatic channels behind Hamid Karzai's back, Nuland's analogy leads to the following questions: is the Taliban holding the ball in Washington's court, or is Washington still playing in the Taliban's court? And what is more valuable, the ball or the court? What happens when Kabul takes control of the court? The Trench understands the need to negotiate directly between Afghanistan's government and Taliban, but giving them "the ball" seems dangerously passive. Washington argues the opposite - an enormous quantity of kinetic action has forced the Taliban onto the defensive - except this theory is incomplete. The Taliban cannot be killed into submission, and such thinking relies on Western minds to interpret an insurgency's thought process. Far from engaging Kabul on Washington's terms, the insurgency is likely to keep fighting and stalling until they receive a favorable offer.

In the event that no reconciliation agreement is reached before 2015, a new Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) between Kabul and Washington could legitimize the Taliban's ongoing fight against occupation.

Not everyone was convinced by Nuland's attempt. Asked, "as far as reconciliation is concerned, do you think it’s working now?" the spokeswoman refuses to budge from her predetermined answer: "They’ve got an open door to it. It’s now for the Taliban to decide if they want to take advantage of it." This passivity is again concealed by military action, which has supposedly forced the Taliban to the negotiating table, and shifts blame away from the failures of U.S. strategy. By arguing that Mullah Omar refuses to walk through this door, the administration can claim that it did everything possible to end Afghanistan's war "responsibly." The only culprit is the Taliban, for rejecting peace, and not the unrealistic "red lines" drawn by Washington: renounce al-Qaeda, accept Afghanistan's constitution and lay down arms. That and accept a U.S. military presence after 2014.

If the Taliban do reconcile with the Afghan government on the condition that no U.S. military forces remain inside the county, these terms may cause significant annoyance in the U.S. government.

Demanding surrender over resolution ultimately puts Afghanistan's war on a longer track; in general, whoever possesses "the ball" in any sport occupies an advantageous position. While the NYT report claims that the Obama administration has accepted the fact that the Taliban will keep fighting, the State Department continues to advocate the established policy of "negotiation by destruction." The inability to capitulate the Taliban has been conceded by Pentagon officials, however these admissions don't match the Pentagon's impulse to continue killing or its public bravado. Interestingly, the Department of Defense trotted out two non-Americans to deliver this message to Americans.

"They are, we think, at the point of realizing that they simply cannot achieve their political aims by military means alone," Lieutenant General Adrian Bradshaw of the British army told reporters on Tuesday. "In fact, we see some real signs of that in our intelligence reporting. This is a very important point in any insurgency, because this is the signal to the insurgents that they must join the political process. When they do that, of course, the reintegration program provides their fighters a mechanism by which to reintegrate into society. So in that respect it could become a game-changer."

Only a foolish insurgency would believe that "military means alone" are response for political victory. The Taliban has never believed in this simplistic equation and always fought on non-military fronts to compensate for its inferior strength. "Blue on Green" is politically oriented. Nor is the Taliban searching for a military conquest of Kabul and the rest of the country at this point; various reports indicate that the insurgency will content itself with governing its historic territory and maintaining political representation in the national government (similar to Hezbollah, Hamas or Muqtada al-Sadr's strategy). Of the two forces, America is more likely to chase military results than the Taliban. The U.S. cannot achieve their political aims by military means alone either, so these statements are mostly composed of air.

"The likelihood of a Taliban military victory is less likely than ever before, and they understand that,” said Brigadier Roger Noble of the Australian army, deputy deputy chief of staff for NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).

Does the Pentagon and NATO understand that similar odds apply to them?

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