U.S. Abandoning Plan For Peace Deal With Taliban Before Withdrawal

Slowly but surely, we're giving up on Afghanistan.

One of the central points of U.S. strategy in Afghanistan since the surge was implemented has been to force the Taliban into a peace deal that would lead to a comprehensive agreement between the country’s warring factions before the U.S. withdrawal was completed in 2014. With the surge over, however, and largely a failure, and given the massive problems presented by continued attacks on ISAF forces by Afghan military and police, we’re essentially abandoning that plan:

KABUL, Afghanistan — With the surge of American troops over and the Taliban still a potent threat, American generals and civilian officials acknowledge that they have all but written off what was once one of the cornerstones of their strategy to end the war here: battering the Taliban into a peace deal.

The once ambitious American plans for ending the war are now being replaced by the far more modest goal of setting the stage for the Afghans to work out a deal among themselves in the years after most Western forces depart, and to ensure Pakistan is on board with any eventual settlement. Military and diplomatic officials here and in Washington said that despite attempts to engage directly with Taliban leaders this year, they now expect that any significant progress will come only after 2014, once the bulk of NATO troops have left.

“I don’t see it happening in the next couple years,” said a senior coalition officer. He and a number of other officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the delicacy of the effort to open talks.

“It’s a very resilient enemy, and I’m not going to tell you it’s not,” the officer said. “It will be a constant battle, and it will be for years.”

The failure to broker meaningful talks with the Taliban underscores the fragility of the gains claimed during the surge of American troops ordered by President Obama in 2009. The 30,000 extra troops won back territory held by the Taliban, but by nearly all estimates failed to deal a crippling blow.

Critics of the Obama administration say the United States also weakened its own hand by agreeing to the 2014 deadline for its own involvement in combat operations, voluntarily ceding the prize the Taliban has been seeking for over a decade. The Obama administration defends the deadline as crucial to persuading the Afghan government and military to assume full responsibility for the country, and politically necessary for Americans weary of what has already become the country’s longest war.

Among America’s commanding generals here, from Stanley A. McChrystal and David H. Petraeus to today’s John R. Allen, it has been an oft-repeated mantra that the United States is not going to kill its way out of Afghanistan. They said that the Afghanistan war, like most insurgencies, could only end with a negotiation.

This is true, of course, and it’s also one of the reasons why the counter-insurgency strategy that the United States adopted in 2009 was such a risky one to begin with. At the same time that we were fighting the Taliban on their own territory, we were supposed to be persuading them to negotiate with us and the Afghan Government over the future of Afghanistan. In some respects, it would appear that part of the reason that negotiations failed is because of domestic pressure here in the United States that forced the Obama Administration to refuse to agree to a Taliban demand for a show of good faith:

For a brief moment, the strategy appeared to be working: preliminary talks, painstakingly set up throughout 2011, opened early this year in Qatar, in the Persian Gulf.

The effort fell apart when the Obama administration, faced with bipartisan opposition in Washington, could not make good on a proposed prisoner swap, in which five Taliban leaders held at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, would have been exchanged for the sole American soldier held by the insurgents, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.

I’m not sure that releasing five Taliban leaders from Guantanamo would have been a good idea given the fact that we’ve seen quite a few examples in recent years of former prisoners who end up committing additional acts of terror. However, when that failure is combined with the fact that our military forces simply haven’t been able to inflict serious enough damage on Taliban forces in the areas of the country under their country, it gives very little incentive for them to agree to talks. Complicating the situation was the fact that the Taliban’s military wing wasn’t exactly a fan of negotiations to begin with.

The American and other diplomats quoted in the article seem to hold out some hope that negotiations could be revived after the election assuming Obama wins, the clear message seems to be that whatever negotiations take place going forward will be ones in which we take a back seat and the Afghans and the Taliban take initiative. In the end, I’d suggest that this is really the only way that any kind of peace deal could ever be reached in that nation, or in any kind of international dispute. Imposing solutions from the outside seldom works unless the nation imposing them is willing to occupy the country for a significant period of time. That’s clearly not an option in this case, the American people are war weary and the plan for American and allied withdrawal is proceeding apace. So, in the end, the fate of Afghanistan will be left in the hands of its citizens. Given how things have gone in that country for the past 30 years or so, I can’t say that I’m optimistic for their future.

FILED UNDER: Afghanistan War, Military Affairs, National Security, , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Jeremy R. says:

    Good. Expectations need to be continually lowered so that all the chicken-hawks, who demand staying until we can have some sort of victorious return home, won’t be able to keep us there forever.

  2. Mikey says:

    Given how things have gone in that country for the past 30 years centuries or so, I can’t say that I’m optimistic for their future.

    Fixed that for you.

  3. Mikey says:

    And what a sad, awful waste. 2000 fine young Americans, 1000 “coalition partners,” uncounted Afghans, all dead, and for what? At least in Iraq there’s a nominally-effective national government (although whether that was worth over 4000 Americans is debatable). In Afghanistan, what is there? A corrupt disaster that barely governs Kabul and its environs, a resurgent Taliban, and little hope for reforming the former and defeating the latter.

    Imposing solutions from the outside seldom works unless the nation imposing them is willing to occupy the country for a significant period of time.

    Sometimes not even then.

  4. Davebo says:

    Shouldn’t Afghanistan be the one brokering a peace deal with the Taliban???

  5. Ron Beasley says:
  6. MBunge says:

    Hmm. I wonder if all the “Obama loves killing children” anti-drone liberals were upset when an attempt to forge some kind of a peace deal in Afghanistan was sabotaged by “bipartisan opposition in Washington”? I must have missed that.


  7. Mikey says:


    the “Obama loves killing children” anti-drone liberals

    I heard both of them were upset.