PICTURED: CENTCOM Head General Kenneth McKenzie visits US forces in Jalalabad, Afghanistan.
Monday, September 9th, 2019. Remarkably, after months of negotiations between the United States and the Taliban, President Trump has seemingly turned 180 degrees and declared the talks “dead”.
This decision by the President came just days after a draft deal of the peace agreement that U.S. diplomat Zalmay Khalilzad and the Taliban delegation had verbally agreed to in principle was sent to both President Trump and Afghan president Ashraf Ghani.
According to a statement from the Taliban media outlet, “The American team seemed content with the progress up until yesterday as we ended our talks in good atmosphere and both sides began making preparations for the announcement and signing of the agreement”.
“…The President of the United States has announced suspension of negotiations with the [Taliban] Islamic Emirate, this will harm America more than anyone else. It will damage its reputation, unmask its anti-peace policy to the world even more, increase its loss of life and treasure and present its political interactions as erratic”.
Boots on the Ground
At zero hour of the negotiations, Khalilzad it seems invited the Taliban at the president’s request to continue talks in the United States at Camp David, Maryland.
But Trump called off negotiations citing one of the many attacks on Kabul that have typified this moment in the longest war in American history. 12 Afghans were killed along with Sgt. Elias Barreto Ortiz, a 34 year old American from Puerto Rico.
According to Bloomberg news, Former Sec. of Defense James Mattis said on Monday that “We cannot do that right now without boots on the ground,” referring to the ability to assist the Afghan Security Forces in combating terrorism. He suggested that pulling all 14,000 troops out of Afghanistan was not possible, citing things like the “safe haven” risk of allowing terrorist to take of residence there after a US withdrawal.
Mattis would continue that statement, adding that Trump should keep “enough boots on the ground not to simply turn the ground back over to the very enemy that attacked us before”.
Preventing groups like al-Qaeda and ISIS from using Afghanistan as a sanctuary was the main US negotiating point during the many months of talks held in Qatar with the Taliban.
Remarkably, some within the armed forces are considering actually increasing the fight against the Taliban, who now hold more of Afghanistan than at any point during the 18-year war.
Reuters reports that Marine General Kenneth McKenzie, head of CENTCOM responded to questioning about a possible increase in military operations corresponding to the Taliban’s lively last few months. “…whatever targets are available, whatever targets can be lawfully and ethically struck, I think we’re going to pursue those targets,” he said.
Lawfully and ethically struck sounds reasonable, only that according the a UN report, NATO operations led by the United States caused 519 civilian casualties through air strikes, 150 of whom were children. This figure was 30% greater than the corresponding period, Jan 1st to June 30th, from 2018.
This figure is heavily disputed by defense officials, but Afghan civilian casualties are not released to the public, and the Afghan War Logs available on Wikileaks demonstrate just how often the United States either knowingly plays down the number of civilian casualties or unknowingly reports them falsely.
Meanwhile heavy fighting continues in the country around Kunduz and Takhar, with the Taliban reporting large victories and over 70 security members killed in the attack. Tolo news reporting from security officials also claim heavy fighting, though they did not mention casualty figures.