Daily Briefing: The US Works On “Extricating Itself From Afghanistan: But At What Price? (July 23, 2019)

Graham on President Trump and Pakistan Prime Minister Meeting (Source: Senate.gov)

Table of Contents

Trump Caves to Pakistan on Afghanistan:  Bill Roggio, FDD’s Long War Journal, July 22, 2019

There Will Be No Peace for Afghanistan:  Ashley Jackson, Foreign Policy, July 4, 2019 

US Exit Looms Over Afghanistan Peace Process:  Umair Jamal, The Diplomat, June 18, 2019

The world is changing’: Andrew Coyne talks to NATO’s secretary-general about Trump, Russia and the future of the alliance:  Andrew Coyne, National Post, July 17, 2019
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Trump Caves to Pakistan on Afghanistan
Bill Roggio
FDD’s Long War Journal, July 22, 2019

During a meeting today with Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan, President Donald Trump said that the US is working closely with Pakistan “to extricate ourselves” from Afghanistan. Trump’s acquiescence to Pakistan, which has backed the Taliban’s deadly insurgency in Afghanistan, occurs less than two years after he accused Pakistan of providing “safe haven to agents of chaos, violence, and terror” and said Pakistan returned billions of dollars in US aid with “nothing but lies & deceit.”

While the reporting on today’s meeting between Trump and Khan focused on Trump’s not-so-veiled-threat to lay waste to Afghanistan as an option to defeat the Taliban, the real story is that he has let Pakistan off the hook for its support of the Taliban. “So, we’re working with Pakistan and others to extricate ourselves – nor do we want to be policemen, because basically, we’re policemen right now. And we’re not supposed to be policemen,” Trump said during his meeting with Khan today, Task & Purpose reported.

“We’ve been there for 19 years in Afghanistan. It’s ridiculous. And I think Pakistan helps us with that because we don’t want to stay as policemen,” Trump continued.  Trump’s comments are dramatically different than his belligerent stand which he took in his Aug. 2017 speech and a later tweet in Jan. 2018. In the Aug. 2017 speech, Trump noted that “20 US-designated foreign terrorist organizations” are currently active in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and said that Pakistan “often gives safe haven to agents of chaos, violence, and terror.”

“We can no longer be silent about Pakistan’s safe havens for terrorist organizations, the Taliban, and other groups that pose a threat to the region and beyond,” Trump continued. He attacked Pakistan for “housing the very terrorists that we are fighting” and harbouring “militants and terrorists who target U.S. service members and officials,” even as the Pakistani government received American aid. A little over four months later, in a famous tweet on New Year’s Day 2018, Trump lashed out at Pakistan for its “lies & deceit.” “The United States has foolishly given Pakistan more than 33 billion dollars in aid over the last 15 years, and they have given us nothing but lies & deceit, thinking of our leaders as fools. They give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help. No more!” Trump proclaimed.

Eighteen months later, Trump is fêting Pakistan’s prime minister in Washington, DC and treating the country as a partner that can be trusted to help end the war in Afghanistan.

Trump is commending Pakistan despite the most recent Country Reports on Terrorism, which notes that Pakistan continues to provide safe haven and support for the Taliban and the al Qaeda-linked Haqqani Network. The Haqqani Network is a powerful faction that is an integral part of the Taliban; its leader serves as one of two deputy Taliban emirs as well as its military commander. “The Pakistani government pledged support to political reconciliation between the Afghan government and the Afghan Taliban but did not restrict the Afghan Taliban and HQN [Haqqani Network] from operating in Pakistan-based safe havens and threatening U.S. and Afghan forces in Afghanistan,” the report noted.

Trump has signalled that he seeks to withdraw US forces from Afghanistan to put an end to the “endless war” during his 2019 State of the Union address, and has made additional comments about his desire to leave several times since. It appears as though Trump is willing to deal with Pakistan, which he accused of perfidy just 18 months ago, to accomplish this goal.

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There Will Be No Peace for Afghanistan
Ashley Jackson
Foreign Policy, July 4, 2019 

As talks to end the war in Afghanistan continue in Qatar this week, and amid continued political disarray in Kabul, there seems to be one clear trend on the ground: The Taliban are consolidating control. The longer the war drags on—now in its 18th year—the more the balance of the conflict tips in the insurgent group’s favour. While there has been fierce debate in the West and in government-controlled areas of Afghanistan about what peace talks with the Taliban mean for women’s rights and the future of Afghan democracy, the view from Taliban-controlled areas suggests a harsh reality that few in the international community seem prepared for: If peace talks succeed, the Taliban will effectively formalize, and likely expand, their control over vast swaths of the country. If peace talks fail, however, the outcome will likely be far worse, with renewed fighting and a precarious government in Kabul.

The Taliban have spent years preparing for a return to power. In areas currently under their control, the insurgency has replaced the Afghan government with their own administration, including Sharia courts and a force of shadow civil servants responsible for an array of tasks from monitoring teacher attendance to collecting taxes.

Most Afghans in these areas, which have borne the brunt of the conflict, simply want the fighting to end. They assume that under any U.S.-brokered deal, Taliban control will simply become permanent. And they have strikingly modest hopes for peace: “Once they don’t have to fight anymore, maybe the Taliban will be less strict,” one woman in the eastern province of Logar said. “Maybe they will let girls go back to school.”

If hope is in short supply, it is in part because hopes have been dashed too many times. In June 2018, a three-day ceasefire declared by the Taliban, the Afghan government, and international forces was the first official pause in the 18-year war. It was a remarkable turn of events that few could have predicted. Pictures of Taliban, government forces, and civilians celebrating the Eid holiday together flooded social media. There was little violence and no civilian casualties. Afghans gained a glimpse of what peace might look like and a sense that an end to the war might finally be in sight.

It wasn’t to be. Fighting resumed almost immediately after the cease-fire and has not let up since. The wife of a Taliban fighter described the cease-fire as a cruel trick that created hope only to snatch it away. When I asked about the prospect of peace talks, she waved her hand dismissively. Like many others, she believed that the war would only end if U.S. forces withdrew.

Nonetheless, recent progress made in political talks would have seemed unthinkably optimistic even a year ago. The United States reversed its refusal to talk directly to the Taliban and appointed Zalmay Khalilzad as special representative for Afghanistan reconciliation in September 2018. Khalilzad and Taliban representatives have since engaged in several rounds of negotiations. In January, Khalilzad announced that the United States and the Taliban had broadly agreed on a draft document outlining a withdrawal of U.S. troops and guarantees from the Taliban that they will not harbour or support foreign terrorist organizations. Before it can be finalized, however, the United States has insisted that the Taliban agree to talk directly to the Afghan government and declare another cease-fire. The Taliban have steadfastly refused—they don’t even recognize the government in Kabul. … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]
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US Exit Looms Over Afghanistan Peace Process
Umair Jamal
The Diplomat, June 18, 2019

A few days ago, the political chief of the Afghan Taliban, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, visited China. The visit comes ahead of another round of talks between the Taliban and the United States concerning the Afghan peace process. Given these developments, it is worth assessing their broader significance.

Broadly, the ongoing peace process in Afghanistan has not been able to change the Taliban’s posture toward the Afghan government or the group’s position concerning the United States’ stay in Afghanistan. After months of lobbying and numerous meetings, the United States has failed to engender any concessions from the group. The Taliban still maintains that the Afghan government is not a legitimate party to the peace process and continues to demand the immediate withdrawal of the U.S. forces from Afghanistan as a precondition to any peace agreement.

On the other hand, the Afghan government and the United States have shown willingness to offer some concessions to the group but remain reluctant from putting out a clear plan for the withdrawal of the international forces from Afghanistan. Clearly, the question of the United States’ withdrawal has become a major reason for the current deadlock vis-à-vis the peace process.

The exiting impasse is not likely to see any changes in the coming weeks or months due to two major reasons and several subtler ones. Firstly, evidently, in Afghanistan, two major blocs have emerged when it comes to the country’s political leadership’s relationship with the international community. The Afghan government lead by Ashraf Ghani is heavily dependent on the United States for its immediate and long-term political survival in the country. Arguably, the current government in Afghanistan is aware that as soon as the U.S. forces withdraw from Afghanistan, the former’s influence or chances of survival in the country are going to take a substantial hit.

On a number of occasions, the United States has tried to deal with the Taliban directly due to the latter’s insistence on excluding the Afghan government from the talks. However, this has not worked for the United States either, as the Afghan government has put Washington under pressure for excluding it from the peace process. Recently, a senior Afghan official accused the U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, of “delegitimizing” the Kabul government by excluding it from peace negotiations with the Taliban and acting like a “viceroy.” In this regard, while the Afghan government and the United States are working closely when it comes to the peace process, the latter may have to consider bringing some other political leaders into the mix if Washington is interested in making an agreement with the Taliban successful. … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]

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‘The world is changing’: Andrew Coyne Talks to NATO’s Secretary-General About Trump, Russia and the Future of the Alliance
Andrew Coyne
National Post, July 17, 2019

… Q. What’s the end game, if any, in Afghanistan, 18 years after NATO went in? How do you see that evolving?

A. We are closer to a peace agreement now than I think we have ever been before. It’s still uncertain whether it is possible to reach an agreement, but there are some real efforts, there are talks going on, and hopefully they will lead to an outcome with guarantees from the Taliban that Afghanistan will never again become a safe haven for international terrorists, with an intra-Afghan reconciliation process, where we also have to make sure that the rights of women, human rights, the social and economic progress which we have achieved in Afghanistan over the last decades are preserved, with a comprehensive ceasefire, and then also part of that picture will be the presence of international troops. NATO supported this peace process by maintaining our support for the Afghan government, and Afghan security forces, because the Taliban has to understand that they will not win on the battlefield. And now we actually see that the Afghan government forces are making progress, sending the message to the Taliban that they will not win on the battlefield so they have to sit down at the negotiating table, and negotiate a balanced and fair political settlement.

Let me add that Canada has really paid a high price. For many years, Canadian troops participated in the NATO mission in Afghanistan, Canada lost many soldiers, many wounded. So it shows the commitment of Canada to our alliance. We are grateful for what Canada did in Afghanistan over many years. We are also extremely grateful that Canada is now leading the training mission in Iraq, because I strongly believe that to train local forces is one of the best weapons we have in the fight against terrorism. NATO has to be able to conduct big combat operations, as we have done in Afghanistan or in fighting Daesh [ISIL], in the global coalition to defeat Daesh in Iraq and Syria, but in the long run it’s better to train local forces than to send our own troops on big combat operations. So I believe in NATO as a training alliance, and Canada is leading by example, by leading the training mission in Iraq. So that’s something I appreciate.

And I would also like to highlight that I appreciate the fact that Canada has now started to increase defence spending after years of cutting the budgets. And that you are leading the battle group in Latvia. All of this shows that Canada is really a highly valued ally. And the fact that defence spending is now going up after years of decline is extremely important for the whole alliance.  … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]

 

On Topic Links:

 

The US Turns from Afghanistan and Pakistan. @ThomasJoscelyn @BillRoggio @FDD @LongWarJournal:  The John Batchelor Show, July 23, 2019, Audio.

 

The Doha Agreement – Paving The Way For The Taliban’s Takeover Of Afghanistan And Enforcement Of Shari’a-Based Governance: Tufail Ahmad, MEMRI, July 12, 2019 — At the July 7-8 talks in Doha, the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (the Taliban organization), backed by Qatar and the U.S., emerged victorious, extracting major advantages from Afghan delegates and the international community.

 

Creating a Real Peace in Afghanistan Anthony H. Cordesman, CSIS, July 17, 2019 — It has been a long, grim war since the first U.S. troops appeared in Afghanistan on October 7, 2001.

 

Meeting POTUS:  Ashraf Jehangir Qazi, Dawn, July 08, 2019 — Pakistan’s relations with the US are important. But their scope is limited.