Eleven years have passed since America and its coalition allies launched Operation Enduring Freedom against the Taliban government in Afghanistan on Oct. 7, 2001, a little less than a month after the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States that killed some 3,000 people.
The Taliban government fell within two months, but the fighting dragged on. As the U.S. turned its attention to Iran, the Taliban regained its strength and took control of the southern and eastern areas of Afghanistan. The U.S. has attempted to engage in peace talks with the Taliban but discussions have soon broken down. Nevertheless, it is clear that a negotiated settlement is the only way to bring peace to Afghanistan. It is hoped that the U.S. will make strenuous efforts to resume talks with the Taliban.
On Sept. 20, the U.S. Defense Department announced that, as President Barack Obama had promised, the U.S. completed the withdrawal of some 33,000 soldiers dispatched by the Obama administration during a surge two years earlier. Now about 68,000 U.S. soldiers remain in Afghanistan and form the core of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), which is led by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
The Obama administration plans to fully transfer authority over peace and security to the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) by the end of 2014. Even after foreign combat forces are withdrawn from Afghanistan, about 20,000 foreign soldiers will remain stationed in Afghanistan to train the ANSF.
This year has witnessed a surge of “Green on Blue violence” — attacks on ISAF soldiers by Afghan soldiers and police officers who have fallen under the influence of the Taliban — resulting in the deaths of more than 50 ISAF soldiers.
Combat and other attacks by Afghans, including suicide bombings and the use of improvised explosive devices, have taken the lives of some 2,000 U.S. soldiers and another 1,000 ISAF soldiers since hostilities began. These casualties and the dragging on of a conflict with no possibility of victory in sight has resulted in war fatigue among the public in the U.S. and Europe.
In January, the Taliban announced that it had accepted an invitation to participate in peace talks with the U.S. and agreed to open a contact office in Qatar. But 10 weeks later it announced that it had suspended the talks. Apparently the Taliban did not like Washington’s considerate attitude toward Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who had expressed disapproval of the talks.
The Obama administration is also reluctant to appear as being soft on the Taliban during this election year, but it has made it clear that it is willing to engage in talks with the Taliban if the latter severs ties with al-Qaida and accepts the Afghanistan Constitution, which guarantees the rights of women and minorities. This reasonable position at least opens the door to a negotiated end to the war in Afghanistan.