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If the Taliban Wins the War, Can It Still Lose the Peace?

18 32 0
07.07.2021

In early October 2001, then-U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell sent a cable to his envoy in Pakistan, ordering her to get a message to the head of the Taliban through Pakistani middlemen: Stop harboring al Qaeda or else. The message, channeled through U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan Wendy Chamberlin to Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar, came days before the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, amid fears al Qaeda was planning more terrorist attacks on U.S. soil following Sept. 11.

“We will hold leaders of the Taliban personally responsible for any such actions. Every pillar of the Taliban regime will be destroyed,” the cable read.

In early October 2001, then-U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell sent a cable to his envoy in Pakistan, ordering her to get a message to the head of the Taliban through Pakistani middlemen: Stop harboring al Qaeda or else. The message, channeled through U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan Wendy Chamberlin to Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar, came days before the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, amid fears al Qaeda was planning more terrorist attacks on U.S. soil following Sept. 11.

“We will hold leaders of the Taliban personally responsible for any such actions. Every pillar of the Taliban regime will be destroyed,” the cable read.

Now, two decades later, the U.S. war in Afghanistan is coming to a close. And the Taliban, once threatened so bluntly by Washington with total annihilation, have never been stronger.

Taliban forces have taken control of an estimated 188 of Afghanistan’s 407 districts. They are close to seizing dozens of others. Some Afghan government forces have fled the country to escape Taliban advances, seeking refuge in neighboring Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. And amid the retreat, the militant group is seizing containers full of weapons and military hardware left behind by Afghan forces, in scenes some experts compare to Iraqi forces’ retreat from the Islamic State in 2014 that precipitated the rise of the Islamic State caliphate.

The specter of civil war—if not an outright Taliban takeover of the country and toppling of Kabul’s government—could be on the horizon, according to U.S. military commanders and reports on U.S. intelligence assessments.

Interviews with more than a dozen U.S. and Afghan officials as well as other regional experts show the policymaking community is still torn on whether the Taliban can take control of the entire country, including the heavily fortified capital of Kabul, or hold the provinces it has already captured. All agree that despite notes of optimism from U.S. President Joe Biden and his administration on Afghan peace talks, momentum is on the Taliban’s side.

But the Taliban faces their own challenges: how much blood to expend for the final push after two decades of unbroken combat, how to balance between moderates and hard-liners, and, most importantly, the future they envision for the country when the fighting stops.

As the battlefield shifts........

© Foreign Policy


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