Are we making progress in Afghanistan?

 
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Are we making progress in Afghanistan?

The answer to the question posed in the title rests entirely with who you ask apparently.

MIlitary.com had an article last week that was titled "Outgoing US Commander Continues Tradition of Hailing Progress in Afghanistan" and while that may be accurate, downplays some successes we have had.  Now, I'm not claiming victory is weeks awat, or even possible, but some advancements are being made, and some losses are occuring.

But first, from that military.com piece:

Outgoing U.S. commander Gen. John Nicholson today joined the succession of U.S. leaders who have predicted that the end of war in Afghanistan is in sight, despite the Taliban's ability to launch large-scale attacks and wreak chaos on major cities.

Nicholson, who will soon step down as commander of Operation Resolute Support and U.S. Forces - Afghanistan, said today that over the past three months he has seen significant progress in the peace process between the Afghan forces and the Taliban.

"This first ceasefire really unleashed the Afghan people's desire for peace ... on really a national and unprecedented scale," Nicholson told a group of defense reporters at the Pentagon.

Be that as it may, the ceasefire didn't last all that long obviously.

ABC News had a pretty good interview here where the reporter actually talked to Taliban in prison:

Now, bear in mind we are fighting two enemies in Afghanistan, the Taliban and ISIS, and they REALLY don't like each other, which is at least partially good news for us.

The list of the Islamic States’ grievances against the “nationalist” Taliban are long, and most of it involves criticizing its alliances towards groups that ISIS also loathes, such as Shias and Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate. ISIS reserves the greatest loathing for the Shia, whom it labels as the Rafidah, or rejectors, a term considered incredibly derogatory...

Though this may seem like petty factional infighting to outsiders, it cannot but be a good thing that the Islamist terror groups of much of the eastern part of the Islamic world are at odds with each other. This prevents the strengthening or consolidation of extremist ideology in Afghanistan and Pakistan since Islamist extremism discredits itself with such infighting. Moreover, it makes it possible for the Taliban to have cause to reign in their its excesses and continue to speak with the Afghan government. Additionally, Pakistan’s intelligence services may be incentivized to refrain from further entrenching extremism in the country’s northwestern regions, especially after some Islamist groups there allied with ISIS.

The Taliban has been attacking cities, and then withdrawing fairly quickly, as they mostly want a big PR win, rather than hold bigger cities, like they did recently in Ghazni.  But ISIS is focused more on attacking the US personally, which is why this here is all kinds of good news:

A U.S. strike over the weekend killed a senior Islamic State commander in eastern Afghanistan, Afghan and U.S. officials said Monday.

The strike in Nangarhar province killed Abu Sayeed Orakzai, a senior leader in the extremist group, according to Shah Hussain Martazawi, deputy spokesman for the Afghan presidency. He said the operation showed the government’s “determination to fight terrorism.”

Lt. Col. Martin O’Donnell, a spokesman for U.S. forces in Afghanistan, said American forces launched a counterterrorism strike in eastern Afghanistan on Saturday that targeted a “senior leader of a designated terrorist organization.” He did not provide further details.

"These efforts target the real enemies of Afghanistan, the same enemies who threaten America," he said.

Orakzai, who also known as Abu Saad Erhabi, was the head of the Islamic State group in Afghanistan, according to a government official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief reporters. Erhabi was killed alongside nine other members of the militant group in the attack, the official said.

And CBS had a good piece on it as well:

Meanwhile, as noted above, General Nicholson is moving on and told Military Times that he believes we are making some strides:

Despite renewed violence and few measurable gains in territorial security, the South Asia Strategy is working and has finally given coalition and Afghan forces the support they need to get to a negotiated peace with the Taliban, the departing top U.S. general in charge of Afghanistan operations said Wednesday.

Army Gen. John Nicholson, commander of NATO’s Resolute Support mission and U.S. Forces-Afghanistan held his final press conference Wednesday on the state of operations in Afghanistan before his replacement, Army Lt. Gen. Scott Miller, takes over through a change-of-command ceremony in the next few weeks.

What the strategy needs, Nicholson said, is more time to realize gains from new offers for cease fires by the Afghan government and take advantage of a desire by some elements of the Taliban to negotiate with the Afghan government.

“We have an unprecedented opportunity for peace now,” Nicholson said.

I'm not overly sanguine about the prospects for peace with the Taliban, but if the people get tired of all this, and start denying the Taliban the means to wage the war (places to stay, weapons, food stuffs etc) then maybe, just maybe, we can start winding this down.

 

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News from the World of Military and Veterans Issues. Iraq and A-Stan in parenthesis reflects that the author is currently deployed to that theater.