Not long ago, the President stated he wanted to talk to the moderate Taliban. Two things happened: plenty of jokes about the oxymoron “moderate Taliban” were heard and there was some anger about ‘giving in’ to the Taliban.
I’m going out on a branch, here. I will assume that the President was referring to elements of the Taliban who have joined out of convenience, due to what they perceive is an insecure element for them and/or their families. I am hoping that he is referring to Afghans who feel they are the outcasts and have no voice in the Afghan government or feel ‘picked on’ and have, thus aligned with the nearest “big dog on the street” to vent their frustrations. Some may well have been forced to join based on threats to their families etc. If he is referring to the backbone, “drank the Kool-aid” Taliban, then I’ve got a problem.
Based the above assumption, I think such a move would be positive with a big caveat. The move is a good idea because it is a part of the strategy we employed in Iraq with the Anbar and Diyala awakening. It was part of a proven, effective counter-insurgency strategy. The big caveat is that we must and can only, legitimately bring the “Taliban in name only” (TINO?) to the Afghan side by reaching out from a position of strength as noted by Michael Yon:
General Petraeus and others believe that reaching out to moderate elements is important. Part of the strategy not described in the transcript below is to negotiate from a position of strength, which means much aggressive fighting ahead this year. At the moment, the Taliban and associated groups realize that their negotiating positions – those who might care to negotiate – are improving month by month. We must kill a lot of these guys to help the more moderate enemies realize there is incentive to negotiate. This course carries great risk of alienating more Afghans, especially as more U.S. troops clog the roads and inevitable mistakes occur. We need more people, but more people on the ground are almost guaranteed to also alienate more Afghans. Our shelf life in Afghanistan is limited by numerous factors. We must make a significant turnaround, in my estimate, by no later than late 2010. There are tough times ahead, and no guarantees.
Currently, as highlighted by Yon, we are not in a position to negotiate the “Afghan awakening”. We are going to, first, have to reinforce in their minds that our might is superior to theirs as those leaving the Taliban will be risking a great deal to ally themselves with forces of justice and progress to a better future for their country. I would also point out that when this occurs, it will, likely, not be a copy of the Iraqi awakenings as Afganistan is an entirely different country in more ways than one. Remember, too, that General Petraeus is, likely, behind this strategy and is proven in his leadership.
Hopefully, this will bring in some perspective to those who had an bad initial reaction to the statement…but only if the President will negotiate once “stength” is established, negotiate with true “TINO” (not their main leadership etc.), and let Petraeus call the shots on when to begin/run the negotiations.
**Keep tabs on Michael Yon for further developments. He’s the best reporter on this and operates from reader contributions (hint, hint).