The Daily Star — The war in Afghanistan has reached some grim benchmarks recently, with violence and betrayal marring what progress has been made in the country over the past 10 years.
The number of U.S. service members killed in the conflict exceeded 2,000 with the June death of Taylor J. Baune, a 21-year-old Marine from Andover, Minn., who was deployed in April after being married in March.
But most troubling are the trends taking shape over the last few years in Afghanistan. More than half the U.S. casualties in the war have been sustained in the past 27 months. Worse yet, the number of so-called “green-on-blue” attacks against NATO-led coalition forces by their ostensible Afghan allies has surged. Afghan soldiers and police have killed 40 coalition soldiers in the first eight months of this year alone, which is more than all of last year and more than the entire period from 2007 to 2010.
Security in Afghanistan remains relatively stable but precarious, as shown this week when insurgents were able to hit the unoccupied plane of Joint Chiefs Chairman Martin Dempsey with a rocket barrage during his visit to Bagram Air Field.
One can’t allow every setback in a war to force a reappraisal of strategy, but it would be naive to ignore the increasingly tense relations between coalition forces and their Afghan counterparts. Officials responded this week to the rise of friendly-fire attacks by ordering all U.S. personnel to carry loaded weapons at all times. Another order requires that whenever armed Afghan forces meet with coalition forces, one U.S. soldier is designated a “guardian angel” ready to respond immediately to any sign of treachery.
But for all the grim headlines emanating from the country, signs are emerging that a deal could be reached that might resolve the conflict. Afghan government forces have performed so effectively in recent anti-Taliban operations that one senior Taliban commander recently said many on his side are resigned to believing the conflict is unwinnable.
“The Taliban capturing Kabul is a very distant prospect. Any Taliban leader expecting to be able to capture Kabul is making a grave mistake,” said the commander, identified only as Mawlvi, in an interview with former UN envoy Michael Semple published last month in the New Statesman. “Nevertheless, the leadership also knows that it cannot afford to acknowledge this weakness. To do so would undermine the morale of Taliban personnel. The leadership knows the truth – that they cannot prevail over the power they confront.”
It’s unlikely that President Barack Obama will engage the Taliban in negotiations during an election year, but the time has come for an arrangement whereby the Afghan central government can manage the country without the presence of U.S. troops.