“ALLAH has promised us victory and America has promised us defeat,” Mullah Muhammad Omar, the first head of the Taliban, once said, “so we shall see which of the two promises will be fulfilled.” When his colleagues admitted this summer that Mullah Omar had died, Al Qaeda and affiliated groups around the globe remembered those words — victory is a divine certainty — in their eulogies. And in Afghanistan today, though the majority of Afghans still do not identify with the Taliban or Al Qaeda, Mullah Omar’s bold defiance in the face of a superpower is beginning to look prescient.
Since early September, the Taliban have swept through Afghanistan’s north, seizing numerous districts and even, briefly, the provincial capital Kunduz. The United Nations has determined that the Taliban threat to approximately half of the country’s 398 districts is either “high” or “extreme.” Indeed, by our count, more than 30 districts are already under Taliban control. And the insurgents are currently threatening provincial capitals in both northern and southern Afghanistan.
Confronted with this grim reality, President Obama has decided to keep 9,800 American troops in the country through much of 2016 and 5,500 thereafter. The president was right to change course, but it is difficult to see how much of a difference this small force can make. The United States troops currently in Afghanistan have not been able to thwart the Taliban’s advance. They were able to help push them out of Kunduz, but only after the Taliban’s two-week reign of terror. This suggests that additional troops are needed, not fewer.
When justifying his decision last week, the president explained that American troops would “remain engaged in two narrow but critical missions — training Afghan forces, and supporting counterterrorism operations against the remnants of Al Qaeda.” He added, “We’ve always known that we had to maintain a counterterrorism operation in that region in order to tamp down any re-emergence of active Al Qaeda networks.”
The headlines should read: “Obama to slash U.S. troops in Afghanistan by over 40% weeks before he hands over responsibility to a new President.” Instead they say: “Obama extends U.S. military presence in Afghanistan.” Talk about controlling the narrative.
The recent outrage over reports of systematic child rape by Afghan security forces may be justified, but sadly there is little novelty to the reports themselves. Even the Sunday New York Times article that brought the matter into public view cited a list of earlier dispatches addressing it: articles in the Times itself in 2002 and 2011, as well as a 2010 Frontline documentary, “The Dancing Boys of Afghanistan,” that explored at length the pedophilic practice of bacha bazi—the keeping of boys by Pashtun men for sex.
Until mid-September, the half-million migrants who had been marching northwards into central Europe seemed like the Old World equivalent of Hurricane Sandy survivors. Families uprooted by the war in Syria were seeking safety, according to this view of things. It was sad to see little girls sleeping by the side of the road, but inspiring to see European volunteers, with their clipboards and their bags of snacks, their water bottles and Port-a-Potties, showing such compassion and logistical expertise.
For the first time since an American-led coalition toppled the Taliban in 2001, Afghan officials are engaged in formal talks with Taliban leadership. Afghan president Ashraf Ghani confirmed that members of the Afghan High Peace Council sat down for face-to-face negotiations in Islamabad, Pakistan this week. They were joined by deputy foreign minister Hekmat Karzai. The Taliban did not reveal who their negotiators are.
Most American wouldn't know a donkey drop from a paddle scoop, but nevertheless, half a million taxpayer dollars will be going to support a cricket league in Afghanistan. The current grant opportunity looks to build on what was considered a successful 2014 program. The plan is for at least five regional cricket teams from throughout Afghanistan to compete in what is called the Sixers tournament in the fall of 2015.
The ouster of ISIS fighters from Tikrit, Saddam Hussein’s hometown, has been widely celebrated. Although this victory was brought about in no small part by American airpower, it was a triumph for Iran more than for the United States. The vast majority of fighters on the front lines belonged to Shiite militias, many of them trained, equipped, and advised by the Iranians. Their de facto commander is Gen. Qassem Suleimani, head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps’s Quds Force, which is charged with exporting the Iranian revolution.
The United States Army has charged Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl with desertion and "misbehavior before the enemy." Bergdahl allegedly abandoned his post in Afghanistan and was held captive by Taliban-aligned forces for nearly five years before the Obama administration negotiated a deal with the Taliban forces.