Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs meets with Taliban on peace talks

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) – The US top general held unannounced talks with Taliban peace negotiators in the Persian Gulf to push for a reduction in violence across Afghanistan, even as senior US officials in Kabul warned that increased Taliban attack the emerging militant peace negotiations with the Afghan government.

Army General Mark A. Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, met with Taliban negotiators in Doha, Qatar for about two hours on Tuesday and flew to Kabul on Wednesday to discuss the peace process with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.

Milley’s rallies came amidst another backslide of US troops, although under current US policy, a full withdrawal depends on reducing attacks by the Taliban nationwide.

“The most important part of the talks I had with both the Taliban and the government of Afghanistan was the need to immediately reduce violence,” Milley told three reporters, including one from The Associated Press, who accompanied him to Qatar and Afghanistan. . . “Everything else depends on it.”

Under the ground rules set by Milley for security reasons, the journalists traveling with him agreed not to report on either conversation until he left the region. It was Milley’s second unannounced meeting with the Taliban negotiating team; the first, in June, also in Doha, had not been reported so far.

While Milley did not report a breakthrough, his Taliban rallies mark a remarkable milestone: America’s top general comes face to face with representatives of the group that ruled Afghanistan until it was ousted in the early stages of what would become America’s longest war. . Milley has completed three missions in Afghanistan, the first in 2003 and the last in 2013-2014.

Army General Scott Miller, the top commander of US and coalition forces in Afghanistan, said in an interview at his military headquarters in Kabul on Wednesday that the Taliban have stepped up attacks on Afghan forces, particularly in the southern provinces of Helmand and Kandahar. and against roads and other infrastructure.

“My guess is, it jeopardizes the peace process – the higher the violence, the greater the risk,” Miller said. Miller meets with Taliban negotiators at least once a month as part of Washington’s effort to advance a peace process.

Ross Wilson, the leading US diplomat in Kabul, said in the same interview that he also sees a growing risk of Taliban violence. He said it has created “an unbearable burden” for the Afghan armed forces and society as a whole.

In the so-called Doha Agreement signed by the United States and the Taliban last February, President Donald Trump’s administration agreed to a phased withdrawal of US troops, which would drop to zero by May 2021 if the terms of the agreement are enforced. One condition is a reduction in violence by the Taliban, leading to a nationwide ceasefire. The Taliban also agreed to start peace negotiations with the Afghan government, which are at an early stage.

The Taliban have demanded an end to US air strikes, which have been conducted since February only in support of the Afghan forces attacked by the Taliban.

Miller said he was saddened by what he called the Taliban’s deliberate campaign to damage roads, bridges and other infrastructure as part of the militants’ efforts to limit the Afghan government’s ability to strengthen its forces.

“Military commanders on the ground are now starting to do things that are not conducive to peace talks and reconstruction and stability,” Miller said, adding, “It is clear that the Taliban are using force as leverage” against the Afghan government.

Miller said he is executing Trump’s order to reduce US forces from 4,500 to 2,500 by January 15, just days before Joe Biden is sworn in as Trump’s successor. Miller said the number of troops is now around 4,000 and will hit the target of 2,500 in time.

Biden has not publicly said whether he will continue the drawdown or how he will move forward with the Doha Agreement negotiated by Trump’s peace envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad.

Biden has not drawn up a detailed plan for Afghanistan, but has made it clear that he prefers a small US military footprint and limited targets. He has acknowledged that he disagreed with then-President Barack Obama’s decision in December 2009 to massively increase the number of troops in the hope of forcing the Taliban to the peace table.

“I think we just need to have troops there to make sure it’s impossible for … ISIS or Al-Qaeda to regain a foothold there,” Biden told CBS News in February.

Trump has advocated a complete withdrawal from Afghanistan but was persuaded in November to reduce the force to 2,500 and continue the current counter-terrorism missions and training and advising Afghan forces.

Some believe that the further thinning of US forces in the coming weeks could lead to renewed Taliban acquisitions on the battlefield and weaken the position of the Afghan government at the peace table.

Stephen Biddle, defense policy expert at the Council on Foreign Relations and professor of international relations at Columbia University, says the main contribution of the United States armed forces at this stage is more political than military.

“In military terms, the war is a slowly diminishing stalemate,” Biddle said in a congressional testimony last month. “The US presence can slow down the margin decay, but we cannot reverse it without a significant boost that seems highly unlikely. This means that if the war continues, the Taliban will ultimately be victorious, regardless of plausible variations in the size or nature of the deployment of US forces. “

Milley’s visit comes in the twentieth year of a war initially designed to overthrow the Taliban regime, expel al-Qaeda and lay the foundation for a global “war on terror.” It became slightly more ambitious, but less clearly defined, and became much more expensive in blood and treasure.

Looking back at the protracted standoff earlier this month, Milley proclaimed that the US and its coalition partners had achieved “some success.”


This story has been corrected to show that the defense policy expert’s name is Stephen, not Steven.