The Impact Of Latest US Casualties On Afghan Peace Talks

With an election around the corner, US President Donald Trump is keen to conclude a US-Taliban pact so that he can boast during his campaign later in the year that he ended the Afghan war.

The biggest obstacle Trump faces in concluding future discussions with the Taliban is that the militant group has so far proved to be an unreliable partner. In December, Taliban and American negotiators met to discuss the signing of a peace deal, according to Suhail Shaheen, a Taliban spokesman for the group’s office in Qatar. Negotiations were stalled that month because the group killed two civilians during a suicide attack on a US base outside Kabul.

On Saturday night, they were guilty of committing a similar atrocity. Two US officials confirmed to Fox News that there were multiple American casualties after US and Afghan soldiers were fired on during a mission in Afghanistan’s eastern Nangarhar province. The number of deaths and the severity of any injuries have yet to be confirmed.

Colonel Sonny Leggett issued a statement saying those involved in the attack were engaged by ‘direct firing.’

This decision will impact upon whether the Trump administration withdraws 4,000 troops from Afghanistan. There are currently 12,000 US soldiers deployed there and after being elected on a campaign promise to end America’s ‘pointless wars’, the US President cannot stop American activities in the nation until the Taliban are fully committed to peace.

The militant group wedded themselves to a spring offensive in April, but they said they were willing to reduce their levels of violence if progress was made towards concluding a US-Taliban pact. But negotiations between both sides have proven to be problematic as no one can agree on how long the Taliban’s violence should be reduced for.

Last month, Reuters reported that the Taliban announced that it will implement a 10-day ceasefire with the US, a reduction in violence with Afghan forces and discussions with Afghan officials if it reaches a deal with US negotiators in Doha. These talks could have ended the longest war America has ever engaged in.

Yet the Doha negotiations failed to reach a successful outcome because of differences over how to reduce insurgent violence. Prior to Saturday’s attack, the Taliban also upset the peace process by successfully attacking Afghan forces despite Afghanistan’s harsh winter this year.

During the Doha talks, the group only committed themselves to scaling back insurgent operations for one week, but Washington demanded that the Taliban commit to a ‘significant and lasting’ reduction in violence before the peace deal is signed. Until these differences are resolved, Trump will never start withdrawing America’s 12,000 troops from Afghanistan.

Since the War on Terror started in 2001, the US has failed to completely defeat the Taliban. However, if the group are serious about playing an active role in Afghan politics, they must increase the length of time they are willing to end their violence for before a pact is negotiated.

The Taliban also needs to stop blaming the US every time both sides fail to sign a deal. Shaheen claims that the group provided a secure environment for talks to be concluded, but America continued ‘to make more demands.’

The US should demonstrate some flexibility in these talks. American troops will remain in Afghanistan even after a deal is signed, but the Afghan Government is right to insist that their withdrawal should be ‘conditional.’ A compromise will be necessary at some stage.

The latest American casualties are a tragedy that will frustrate attempts at ending the Afghan war, but if the US and the Taliban are serious about their desired outcomes, they will both have to budge.