Taliban signal they have already won, peace deal or not: NY Times

The Taliban are promoting a “bold message” that they have already won the war in Afghanistan, with little apparent interest in making concessions in negotiating a peace deal, The New York Times said in a report from Kabul.

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The militant group doesn’t hide its pride at having compelled its principal adversary for 20 years, the United States, to negotiate with them (the Taliban) and, last year, to sign an agreement to completely withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan by May 1, 2021, the newspaper said. In exchange, the Taliban agreed to stop attacking foreign forces and to sever ties with international terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda.

Peace talks in Turkey are set to begin in April, but the Taliban — who have slowly overrun Afghan military bases, steadily taken control of large swaths of countryside and encroached on cities — now have the advantage in the country, the report said. The militant group’s dominance makes it unlikely it will agree to power sharing with the Afghan government once the United States makes its intended exit.

A senior Western diplomat in Kabul told the Times that Afghan security forces have a “not sustainable” casualty rate of roughly 3,000 a month, a figure that has led to the abandonment of dozens of checkpoints and falling morale.

The Taliban, which relies heavily on propaganda, is well aware of its upper hand, as displayed in a recent speech by deputy leader Sirajuddin Haqqani, who said that the group is “experiencing better circumstances,” and “will crush the arrogance of the rebellious emperors, and force them to admit their defeat at our hands.”

About 3,500 U.S. troops remain in Afghanistan, and President Joe Biden is facing a May 1 deadline to withdraw them all under an agreement made last year between the Taliban and the Trump administration.

Under the deal, the U.S. is to withdraw contingent on the Taliban fulfilling certain commitments, including breaking from al Qaeda and reducing violence in Afghanistan. But the U.S. military has said the insurgents have yet to meet these agreements.

Biden last week indicated he will not follow the May 1 deadline, saying it will be “hard” to withdraw forces by that date.

Also last week, U.S. Special Operations Command head General Richard Clarke said the Taliban are not adhering to its agreement and that Afghan forces still need U.S. help to fight them.

But because Biden also said he doesn’t expect to have American forces on the ground in Afghanistan next year, the Taliban only have to bide their time and wait for a withdrawal.

A senior official told reporters earlier this month that a compromise, coalition government, an idea proposed by Washington, would simply be used by the Taliban as a “Trojan horse” to take power.

It was “totally unrealistic” to think the militant group would agree to it, “knowing their psychology,” the official said, according to the Times. “I am not promising a better situation in the future. But we will continue fighting.”

President Ashraf Ghani sounded a largely pessimistic note in remarks to the Aspen Institute in January. “In their eschatology, Afghanistan is the place where the final battle takes place,” he said of the Taliban.

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