Afghanistan Peace Process at a crossroads

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Afghanistan Peace Process at a crossroads

I'll grant that we are a LOT CLOSER to peace in Afghanistan now than ever before, in fact, we're a lot closer then I ever thought we would be, but let's not pop the champagne quite yet...

From CNN:

President Trump is expected to meet with his top national security advisers on Friday to review a US-Taliban peace plan that could end America's longest running war -- but could also trigger a surrender for the US and a betrayal of the Afghan government, critics say.

Trump is expected to meet at his Bedminster golf resort with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and national security adviser John Bolton, according to two sources familiar with the planning. Several defense officials tell CNN that Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph Dunford are expected to be present.

The major topic will be Afghanistan and the plan that Taliban negotiator, Zalmay Khalilizad, has been working on for months to end the conflict there, according to two sources familiar with the planning.

The peace plan is expected to formalize a significant withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan -- from about 15,000 troops to 8,000 or 9,000 troops -- and enshrine official commitments by the Taliban to counterterrorism efforts in Afghanistan, according to the multiple sources familiar with the plan. 
But, there are some concerns. 
A deal between the Taliban and the United States for U.S. forces to withdraw from their longest-ever war in Afghanistan could drive some diehard Taliban fighters into the arms of the Islamic State militant group, Afghan officials and militants say...

“It’s a big opportunity for Daesh to recruit fighters from the Taliban, and, no doubt, many Taliban fighters will happily join,” said Sohrab Qaderi, a member of the provincial council in Nangarhar province on the border with Pakistan, referring to IS.

IS militants, who battle government forces and the Taliban, and have carried out some of the deadliest attacks in urban centers, will not be part of the deal between the United States and the Taliban.

For some Taliban, IS will offer an opportunity to continue jihad against those they see as infidels and their supporters. For others, who fear retribution if they try to reintegrate into society, it could be a refuge.

Foreign Policy is also urging a note of caution in "The US Shouldn't Stumble Out of Afghanistan":

Regardless of how skillfully the United States negotiates, Afghanistan might descend into a wider and protracted civil war after the U.S. withdrawal. The conflict is already a bloody stalemate, with the Taliban having proved their staying power while enjoying the tactical advantages of an insurgency that doesn’t need to try to hold the entire country. In 2018, Afghanistan was already the world’s deadliest conflict. 

But U.S. backing for the government in Kabul and its security forces at least has given anti-Taliban political and ethnic factions a reason to stick together over the last two decades. It’s not difficult to imagine retraction of U.S. financial and military backing—unless a political accommodation among all the factions and the Taliban is reached—leading to a 1990s-style, many-sided civil war with a near-vacuum of governance. That was what happened after the U.S. government flooded Afghanistan with arms to fight the Soviet Union during the 1980s and then the big powers withdrew.

Achieving an Afghan political settlement will be arduous. Will the Taliban, which claim not to seek a monopoly on power, accept electoral democracy? If not, how will political inclusiveness be achieved? Will the Taliban—an “emirate” when they governed—insist on having an amir, which is what they call their leader? What will his role be? The Taliban have never suggested they envision transforming into a political party, but, if not, what will they be in an Afghanistan at peace? The Taliban have only ever governed Afghanistan unilaterally or sought to overturn the political order. Whether there are answers that will sufficiently satisfy many Afghans will have to be tested in talks....

FP concludes:

Unless the United States preserves some of its remaining leverage—its troops and its spending—to see out the negotiation of an Afghan political settlement, its separate peace with the Taliban will end the 18-year U.S. intervention but may end with no peace at all.

At the end of the day, this is all going to come down to how the Taliban and IS deal with the Afghan Gov't after we leave.  Our continued presence at this point is mainly to get that Gov't ready to handle the load.

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A peace accord with the Taliban would be a major accomplishment. Keeping fingers crossed. At the same time, I wonder how they will deal with ISIS which is apparently attempting to establish itself as a player in Afghanistan through means of extreme violence (suicide bomber at a wedding last weekend that killed 70 people).

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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.