The Irish Times view on Afghanistan: the Taliban resurgent

The US is losing the war, but it’s also losing what political leverage it had left

On Monday, a group of attackers drove a captured military humvee packed with explosives into a national intelligence base in Wardak, about 40 km outside the Afghan capital, Kabul. More than 100 people were killed in the attack. Photograph: Jawad Jalali/EPA

On Monday, a group of attackers drove a captured military humvee packed with explosives into a national intelligence base in Wardak, about 40 km outside the Afghan capital, Kabul. More than 100 people were killed in the attack. Photograph: Jawad Jalali/EPA

 

On Monday, a group of attackers drove a captured military humvee packed with explosives into a national intelligence base about 40 km outside the Afghan capital, Kabul. More than 100 people were killed, many of them crushed when the building collapsed with the force of the explosion. The Taliban claimed responsibility.

On the same day, meanwhile, the Taliban issued a statement in which it said its officials had met with United States representatives in Qatar to discuss “ending the invasion of Afghanistan” and that talks would continue later in the week.

The Taliban now controls about half the territory of the country – more than at any point since US forces arrived in 2001

The juxtaposition – the Taliban blowing up members of the Afghan security forces and, within hours, sitting down for peace talks with the Americans – neatly encapuslated the dire state of Afghanistan today. The Taliban now controls about half the territory of the country – more than at any point since US forces arrived in 2001 – and carries out attacks on a daily basis, mainly targeting the beleagured, US-trained Afghan security forces. Optimists point out that the insurgents’ advance has largely been limited to rural areas, but if the Taliban is not winning the war, it’s certainly not losing it either. Having long resisted direct talks with the group, the US now accepts that it has little choice.

An Afghan military vehicle near the military base attacked by a car bomber in the central province of Maidan Wardak, Afghanistan. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images
An Afghan military vehicle near the military base attacked by a car bomber in the central province of Maidan Wardak, Afghanistan. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

In the year leading up to those talks, Washington had intensified its efforts on behalf of the Afghan military, drawing on an increase in US troop numbers sanctioned by Donald Trump in his first year in office. But whatever additional leverage that gave the Americans going into the negotiations has almost certainly evaporated since Trump’s abrupt announcement last month that he would withdraw 7,000 US soldiers – about half the total – from Afghanistan in coming months.

Afghan president Ashraf Ghani meeting foreign delegates at the Kabul Process conference at the presidential palace in Kabul on Wednesday. Photograph: Shah Marai/AFP/Getty Images
Afghan president Ashraf Ghani at the presidential palace in Kabul last year. File photograph: Shah Marai/AFP/Getty Images

The move took US allies, Trump’s own military leaders and the Afghan government by surprise. Nobody will have cheered it more than the Taliban itself. Now that it knows the Americans are about to leave, it has no incentive to make concessions and every reason simply to sit tight and wait for the Americans pack their bags.

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