GU Veteran Questions U.S. Negotiations with Taliban
Published: Monday, May 14, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, May 15, 2012 21:05
In a speech from Afghanistan last week, President Obama announced that his administration was in negotiations with the Taliban — a force he sent more than 30,000 additional troops to eradicate less than three years ago.
I was part of that surge in Afghanistan. At the time, the mission was essentially to create an environment in which the Afghan government could function. Had the mission been to force the Taliban to negotiate, I think we could have avoided the surge altogether. I don’t think it drastically changed whatever demands the Taliban would have had before.
If we’re negotiating now, then I have a question: Why did we surge in the first place?
The administration owes an answer to the families of over 1,000 U.S. service members who lost their lives since the surge and those of the thousands more who have come home permanently disabled. I think some of those families would be upset at the idea that their loved one gave the ultimate sacrifice to achieve something that was just as achievable in 2008.
By 2008, Afghan President Hamid Karzai had already been trying to negotiate for years. He had even tried to elicit Saudi Arabia’s help. In 2009, even Vice President Joe Biden hinted at the possibility of negotiations, and some reports claim the administration has tried to negotiate secretly for over a year already.
If there was an unstated goal of enhancing our ability to negotiate by surging, then I have another question: Did we achieve that goal?
Based on a recent attack in Kabul following Obama’s visit, the answer seems to be that no, we did not.
Today, the Taliban — or those who claim to speak for the Taliban — either have no control over the organization or have no desire to negotiate. The fact is that it is a decentralized organization with which negotiations are likely to produce unfavorable results, if any at all.
In 2007, members of the Taliban abducted 23 Korean missionaries, holding them hostage in hopes of negotiating the release of jailed militants.
But Khwaja Mohammad Sidiqi, a local police chief, told USA News at the time that it was difficult to negotiate because the organization’s demands were unclear.
“One says, ‘Let’s exchange them for my relative.’ The others say, ‘Let’s release the women.’ And yet another wants a deal for money,” he said. “They have got problems among themselves.”
Ultimately, two hostages were executed before the rest were finally released in exchange for a promise of troop withdrawals and a reported $20 million ransom. The Koreans felt their negotiations were worth the price they paid, apparently. There seems to be a similar ending in sight for the United States.
Negotiations, by definition, imply that both sides have something the other wants. In last week’s announcement, Obama indicated the Taliban has something his administration wants: a politically safe exit from Afghanistan.
Whatever it is, I would like to know whether the president really needed to send more troops into combat to attain that. If the answer is “no,” then I think the administration should rethink how it wants to end this war.
Robert Snyder is a student in the School of Continuing Studies. He served in Iraq in 2008 and Afghanistan in 2010, where he will be redeployed this summer.