- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 14, 2010

An Army general has summed up the military challenge in Afghanistan: “We can’t kill our way out of this thing.”

Maj. Gen. John Campbell commands Regional Command East (R.C. East) along the border with Pakistan, an insurgent heartland and one of the hottest areas in Afghanistan. As the general said at a Wednesday press conference, the environment in R.C. East is, using the contemporary vernacular, “very, very kinetic. If you go up into Kunar [province], up into the Pech River Valley, they’re fighting every single day up there … very, very kinetic to this day.”

If killing the enemy won’t bring an end to the war, peace will have to come through negotiations. Contacts with the Taliban have been reported for years, the latest coming from Afghan President Hamid Karzai. This week, he told al Jazeera that he had “personal meetings with some Taliban leaders, and my colleagues from my government have had some meetings in and outside Afghanistan with the Taliban.” He noted that those had been unofficial contacts, “countryman to countryman,” as he described them, but that the time had come to “talk with the Taliban at a fixed address and with a more open agenda to tell us how to bring peace to Afghanistan and Pakistan.”

A senior NATO official confirmed that the International Security Assistance Force “facilitated to various degrees the contacts between these senior Taliban members and the highest levels of the Afghan government,” including giving insurgent envoys safe passage to Kabul. A source at the Pentagon told The Washington Times: “Afghanistan is a sovereign nation, and their president can meet with whomever he wants. We’ve said for months now that we’re in Afghanistan to provide stability and security to support the government of Afghanistan as they stand up and improve their governance. The Afghan government has the strength to act independently of [the International Security Assistance Force].” The official said initiatives like this are part of the definition of “success in counterinsurgency.”

The Taliban predictably denounced the reports of talks as “baseless propaganda.” Taliban leaders repeatedly have stated that their precondition for negotiations is that all foreign forces first leave the country. For its part, the Karzai government said it would not engage in talks until the Taliban laid down their weapons, severed ties with al Qaeda and accepted the current Afghan constitution. Such an impasse benefits the terrorists.

Any negotiations have to be viewed through the Taliban’s long-term time frame. They know all they need to do is wait out the current U.S. administration. President Obama’s chief goal in Afghanistan is to facilitate the transition of responsibility for security - in other words, to pull out the troops. The White House wants this done as quickly as possible. Even with the recent buildup of American forces, the president’s fixation on July 2011 as the date to begin the withdrawal has created a sense in Afghanistan among friends and enemies that the United States will wash its hands of the country and depart. That’s why Mr. Karzai finds it necessary to begin negotiations with the other side.

As politics swirl behind the scenes, for the troops on the ground, the fight remains a very kinetic affair.