“Everything depends on the Americans. If they want to make war for 20 years, then we shall make war for 20 years. If they want to make peace, we shall make peace and invite them to tea afterwards.”
– Ho Chi Minh, 1966
June 2, 2018
Outgoing U.S. Forces Afghanistan Commander General John Nicholson during his final press conference, lacking anything of substance to point to in terms of progress during his two-year watch, cited covert talks between the Taliban and Kabul as one of the key achievements of President Donald Trump’s South Asia strategy, befuddling a crowd of mostly useless reporters and prompting rather swift ridicule from the insurgent movement.
“I call this talking and fighting,” Nicholson told reporters at the Pentagon via teleconference on May 30. “And, as the SECDEF [Secretary of Defense James Mattis] has said, ‘violence and progress can coexist,’ and that’s what we’re seeing.”
Yet, according to the Pentagon’s own district control data, the Taliban are fighting and winning, mind you, so it is no wonder the insurgents “categorically” rejected the general’s absurd propositions.
“Nicholson is making such fabricated statements to divert attention from his failures and [to] keep the Washington media busy with false claims instead of exposing the failed Trump strategy for Afghanistan to the American people,” Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid said in a statement posted on May 31.
Most insurgents are not entirely opposed to negotiations but they are opposed to sitting down with representatives from what they deem to be a puppet government, the spokesman explained.
“Talking to impotent parties during the presence of occupying forces is pointless,” Mujahid added.
Moreover, while Mujahid channels the sentiment of the more mainstream Quetta shura, which happens to be the group most amenable to talks, he does not represent the voice of all Taliban factions.
As Stratfor global intelligence notes in a recent assessment, in addition to the Quetta shura there is the Pakistani-preferred Haqqani Network, the Rasool shura in the west, and the Iran-based Mashad shura, making it nearly impossible to forge a consensus among the insurgency.
“The fragmented nature of the Taliban will complicate the chances of success in any peace negotiations, as assent from all factions is a prerequisite for any lasting deal,” the Stratfor report said.
And appearing to steadily gain more influence over the Taliban is the Haqqani Network which, according to Stratfor, “favors a solely military solution to the conflict.”
Another surreal moment came when Nicholson bragged that within six months of Trump unleashing his South Asia strategy, the Afghan government and Taliban put forth so-called peace plans.
“When you lay these documents side by side, you’ll find there’s – there’s a few key differences, but there’s many points of intersection,” Nicholson said. “And so there – this is what, you know, leads me to the conclusion that there’s tremendous potential to advance the reconciliation dialogue.”
One of those key “differences,” by the way, is that in the Taliban’s document, an open letter to America issued in February, is the insurgents’ demand that the United States end its occupation of Afghanistan.
We then slip even further into the Pentagon rabbit hole where cognitive dissonance resonates when Nicholson outlines the very conditions that render wholesale withdrawal a fantasy.
“It’s been a long war but, I would note that, in that time, our country has not been attacked from Afghanistan,” the general observed. “So preventing these terrorists from launching attacks out of this area – again, largest concentration of terrorist groups anywhere in the world – is the principal reason why we’re here.”
This is not a clear end game but a formula for open-ended war, practically guaranteeing that U.S. forces occupy Afghanistan for, roughly, eternity.
So the United States promises to end its ground occupation – currently in the form of a “train-advise-assist” mission – when Afghan forces are ready and a reconciliation process is underway – a process that the Taliban will not engage in until the United States exits.
Upon closer examination of the letter Nicholson beholds as some peace framework, we can also find a warning that cannot help but remind of the words spoken by a famous Viet Cong leader in the mid-1960s.
“If the policy of using force is exercised for a hundred more years and a hundred new strategies are adopted, the outcome of all of these will be the same as you have observed over the last six months following the initiation of Trump’s new strategy,” the Taliban said in the document.
At the end of the day the very “peace offering” that Nicholson believes illustrates the success of Trump’s new strategy in actuality clearly spells out why it has and will continue to fail. And if everything is up to the Americans, South Asia can look forward to another century or more of endless warfare.