Afghanistan Endgame: Vexing Between ‘Impasse’, Opium Rise and Race For Peace

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NEW YORK/ISLAMABAD — The latest quarterly report by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction describes the military situation in the 17-year war torn country as of Nov. 30 as being at “an impasse.”

The arrival of additional U.S. advisers this year helped slow “the momentum of a Taliban march that had capitalized on U.S. draw-downs between 2011 and 2016,” it said.

Afghan forces “remain in control of most of Afghanistan’s population centers and all of the provincial capitals, while the Taliban control large portions of Afghanistan’s rural areas, and continue to attack poorly defended government checkpoints and rural district centers,” it said.

The decision to withdraw forces comes as the U.S. tries to broker talks aimed at bringing a more lasting peace to Afghanistan. American officials held talks with Taliban representatives in the United Arab Emirates last week, joined by officials from Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and the U.A.E.

Another report by a Pentagon watchdog said the Kabul government’s grip on the country has constantly shrunk, civilian deaths have risen and the production of poppy used to make heroin is surging.

Publicly, Trump’s national security team has said its approach has been effective. During a trip to Afghanistan in July, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo insisted that Trump’s strategy to fight the Taliban was working. Recently regined Secretary of Defense James Mattis similarly said earlier this year that Afghanistan was a “tough fight” but the American effort “is working from our perspective.”

There was an acknowledgement, however, that American firepower could only go so far. General Miller said in an October interview with NBC News that the conflict “is not going to be won militarily.”

“My assessment is the Taliban also realizes they cannot win militarily,” Miller told NBC. “So if you realize you can’t win militarily at some point, fighting is just — people start asking why.”

Miller this week met with Chief of the Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa and agreed on the importance of a political solution to the Afghan conflict. They also unanimously agreed that only an Afghan-owned and Afghan-led inclusive process can lead to peace in the war-torn country.

“Pakistan is committed to efforts for peace in Afghanistan as it is important for peace in Pakistan”, Gen, Bahwa said.

A week earlier, Islamabad brokered a meeting between the United States and the Taliban in Abu Dhabi in a bid to pave the way for reviving the peace process that has remained stalled since 2015. On board were Saudi, UAE and Pakistani officials during the talks.

Washington has accepted that a purely military victory is not possible and has focused on forcing the Taliban to the negotiating table, amid Trump announcement he may order drawdown of half of US troops on the ground before summer.

However, on Saturday, the White House refuted reports that President Donald Trump has decided to withdraw almost half of American troops stationed in Afghanistan, Bloomberg reported.

Last week, reports had surfaced that Trump was planning to withdraw 7,000 troops from Afghanistan by the summer, with an American official telling AFP on condition of anonymity “that decision has been made. There will be a significant withdrawal.”

“The president has not made a determination to drawdown U.S. military presence in Afghanistan and he has not directed the Department of Defense to begin the process of withdrawing U.S. personnel from Afghanistan,” Garrett Marquis, a spokesman for the National Security Council, said in an emailed statement to Bloomberg on Friday.

Marquis’ statement was supported by Miller, who said that he had not received any orders to change troop levels in the country.

The Taliban warned the US on Thursday it would face the same fate as the Soviet Union in the 1980s if it did not leave Afghanistan.

The Taliban have long insisted on the withdrawal of foreign troops as a condition for engaging in peace talks.

Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said in a statement in English, Dari and Pashto that any future relations between the Taliban and the United States should be based on “sound diplomatic and economic principles” rather than conflict.

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