USIP’s Andrew Wilder sees an urgent need to get the peace effort back on track.
President Trump’s weekend announcement of a halt to U.S. peace talks with Afghanistan’s Taliban—including a previously unannounced U.S. plan for a Camp David meeting to conclude that process—leaves the future of the Afghanistan peace process unclear. USIP’s Andrew Wilder, a longtime Afghanistan analyst, argues that, rather than declaring an end to the peace process, U.S. negotiators could use the setback as a moment to clarify the strategy, and then urgently get the peace process back on track before too much momentum is lost.
Gen. John Nicholson, who commands the American-led international military force in Afghanistan, recently made headlines when he called for “a few thousand” more troops and a deeper American commitment to the fight in Afghanistan in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee earlier this month.
This echoes the calls from a number of otheranalysts, as well as from senior government officials. The recently departed national security advisor, Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn — who once served as the senior intelligence officer for the U.S.-led campaign in Afghanistan — seemed to support greater commitment to the region. As they say, personnel is policy: Flynn appointed senior National Security Council staffers who called for engagement in Afghanistan to potentially continue another five to ten years. There’s good reason to think these beliefs might be shared by incoming national security advisor, Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, given his substantial investment in Afghanistan.
Recent developments herald a troubled year for the Afghans
During 2015 and 2016, the Taliban have been on an offensive and gained territory. Particularly they have made inroads into strategic areas where the Taliban can control the roads. At the same time, there is an active fight between the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) and Taliban over 20% of the Afghan territory. How the final battle will fall out is unknown, but if the ANSF loses, the Taliban can end up controlling up to one-third of the country.
The past couple of years have seen an increase in violent incidents, an increase in militant actors and in both the number of Internally Displaced People (IDPs) and Afghan returnees from the EU, Pakistan and Iran. The increase of violence is related both to the force used by insurgents and the Afghan government. The increase in militant actors is due to the military operation, known as the Zarb-e-Azb, launched by the Pakistani army in the tribal areas of Pakistan, which has pushed over new militants to Afghan soil, but also due to the entrance of the Islamic State into Afghanistan.
Taliban elements and other militant groups are conducting operations across Afghanistan, including spectacular attacks against major population centers and U.S. bases. The Haqqani Network, a Taliban aligned-group, continues to pressure the ANSF and NATO forces with spectacular attacks in Kabul and Khost. Taliban elements are also conducting numerous ground assaults to seize district centers, especially in northern and southern Afghanistan. These campaigns comprised the 2015 warm weather from April 2015- September 2015. There have been several notable developments following the announcement of the death of Mullah Omar onJuly 29. First, Taliban militants have claimed control of two district centers in Helmand on August II and August 26. Second, ISIS’s Wilayat Khorasan have claimed control of seven district centers in Nangarhar over the course of July and September. Third, Taliban infighting has escalated as different factions compete and express varying positions on who should lead the Taliban movement.
Pakistan’s ongoing military operation in North Waziristan, a stronghold of Al Qai’da and Islamist militants, is nearing its end. However, as the Pakistan Army races towards declaring this mission complete, a number of issues of immediate consequence to Pakistan, the region, and the United States remain unaddressed. To succeed in the long run, the mission needs to be part of a larger counter-insurgency campaign that must address political and social considerations, as well as the regional and global exigencies.