A wave of recent attacks in Afghanistan has left the Afghani government infuriated. Over the past week, the Taliban carried out 422 attacks in 32 provinces, killing a minimum of 291 Afghan security personnel and wounding 550 others. This marks the deadliest week in the country’s 19-year war, even as the Taliban reject the figures.
According to Javid Faisal, the Spokesperson for the Office of the National Security Council, the “Taliban’s commitment to reduce violence is meaningless, and their actions inconsistent with their rhetoric on peace.”
A top Afghan government official accused the insurgents of unleashing a wave of violence before potential talks.
The Taliban have sternly denied these accusations. Zabihullah Mujahid, the Taliban’s spokesman in Afghanistan, told the AFP news agency that, “The enemy aims to hurt the peace process and intra-Afghan talks by releasing such false reports.”
The U.S. signed a peace agreement with the Taliban in late February 2020. The agreement set the groundwork to end America’s longest war. Tens of thousands have been killed in the nearly two-decade-old conflict that began shortly after the 9/11 attacks. The conflict has lasted three White House administrations and left mistrust and uncertainty on all sides.
Pursuant to the agreement, the Afghani authorities have already released about 3,000 Taliban prisoners, and plan to free 2,000 more, as stipulated in the peace agreement. In light of the most recent attacks, these releases may temporarily be put on hold.
Yet, the phased U.S. troop withdrawal is continuing on schedule, even as other parts of the peace deal with the Taliban have faced setbacks and delays.
At the height of the nearly two-decade war, there were more than 100,000 American troops in Afghanistan, alongside tens of thousands of allied troops, from about 40 nations, as part of the United States-led NATO coalition. President Obama reduced troop numbers drastically before the end of his term, as all sides admitted the war could not be won militarily.
Trump has stated that 5,000 troops would leave the country by May 2020. The coronavirus pandemic has undoubtedly held up much progress and troop movement. If those 5,000 troops were to leave the country, that would leave back less than 5,000.
The recent spike in Taliban attacks is not unrelated to the American troops’ withdrawal. With the drawdown of forces also comes the drawdown of resources such as drones, airplanes, bombs, and intelligence. With the U.S. forces doing fewer and fewer offensive operations, the Taliban are trying to gain the upper hand as the U.S. exits the country.
In some ways, the war in Afghanistan has similarities to Vietnam. In both, the American public was outraged that soldiers were dying for no apparent reason. In Vietnam, the U.S. government claimed that it was building democracy and infrastructure for South Vietnam. This seems remarkably similar to the case of Afghanistan. Politicians would have you believe that we are fighting a war on terrorism. Veterans would tell you they do not want the U.S. to leave the country, thinking that their Brothers and Sisters would have died for nothing if there is no clear victory.
But how do you defeat an idea? Can you win over ideology? I would argue no. For most of the Afghanistan war, the U.S. “never really fought to win,” as President Trump declared in a tweet. Over the past year, the U.S. military mission has focused on airstrikes and supporting Afghan forces, as a way to force the Taliban to embrace political talks.
We cannot kill ideas with bombs and bullets: we can only kill them with better ideas. And since the handful of al-Qaeda extremists, who first attempted to target U.S. interests in 1992, has now grown to over 30,000 globally, what Washington has been doing clearly has not been working. While we may have fought and killed thousands of terrorists in Syria and Afghanistan, it does not seem as though ISIS or the Taliban have slowed down much — if at all.