| Ander Nieuws week 26 / Midden-Oosten 2013 |
We need a true ceasefire in Afghanistan

Failure to concretely end America's longest war could put at risk everything that US and British soldiers have paid the price for
The Guardian
13 June 2013
Daniel Davis
The war in Afghanistan continues to founder and is in danger of sliding irretrievably toward strategic failure. The US is currently on a glide path to end the "combat phase" by 31 December 2014, leaving behind some residual force for years to come. It is the calendar, not the conditions, that drives the effort.
If we staunchly maintain this "run out the clock" strategy irrespective of on-the-ground realities, the risk to core American objectives rises dramatically. Desperate situations often require bold, audacious countermeasures. Although we are well into the 11th hour, it is time to try something we have remarkably not even attempted: seek a ceasefire, providing diplomatic space for a negotiated settlement, in an attempt to bring the war to an acceptable conclusion.
Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, senior American officials continue to claim the war in Afghanistan is going well. For example, on the occasion of his ceremony relinquishing command of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Kabul, Afghanistan, last February then-General John Allen boldly told the assembled guests that after nearly 12 years of fighting, the US and coalition forces had won: "This is winning, this is what victory looks like, and we should not shrink from these words."
Two months later, the Afghan NGO Security Office (ANSO) reported that quite in contrast to the general's claim, insurgent-initiated attacks "have soared this quarter, up by 47% from [first quarter] last year ... We assess that the current re-escalation trend will be preserved throughout the entire season and that 2013 is set to become the second most violent year after 2011."
I served in Afghanistan in the summer of 2011, and I can confirm that although the Taliban took a beating, they remained robust - and the Afghan people most assuredly do not consider the Taliban to have lost. What they instead see, as the ANSO report quantifies, is that the insurgents endured the best our military could dish out via the 2010-2011 "surge", that the Taliban is presently on the military ascendency and that ISAF troops are in the process of withdrawing.
I cannot more emphatically state: the risk we took with the military surge in 2010 has operationally failed. Before we turn this operational failure into strategic defeat, we must take a risk of a new type: change the dynamics via a ceasefire. It is beyond the scope of this opinion piece to detail how a ceasefire could be accomplished, but a few of the fundamentals illustrate the possibility.
Clearly, no war-terminating solution of any sort is possible without cooperation from Islamabad. Pakistan is suffering under enormous strains right now - from failing infrastructure, political fracturing, severe economic problems and a growing security threat from terrorism and insurgency. The recently-elected government of Nawaz Sharif has incentive to work with Afghanistan and the US on reigning in the Afghan Taliban to reduce both internal and external pressures on his country. The people of Afghanistan are flatly sick of war and will likely support any legitimate effort that has a chance to reduce or eliminate violence. Although the Taliban remain a viable entity, they understand that absent some sort of accommodation with the west they will never be allowed to return to open power.
There would be many challenges to successfully transitioning a ceasefire into a war-ending final settlement; it may already be too late to avoid a civil war. In fact, I assess such an effort, if it had the full backing of the White House, Kabul and Islamabad, would still have no better than a 40% chance of success; the damage done over the past decade will be hard to overcome. Yet a sober analysis of the situation on the ground suggests that if we run out the clock through the end of 2014, civil war and the perpetuation of war in one form or another will likely continue indefinitely, leaving Pakistan increasingly vulnerable to collapse and foster conditions allowing the spread of al-Qaida and associated movements throughout the region; all would represent the loss of core American objectives.
The US has taken considerable risk on various forms of kinetic military actions such as: significantly ratcheting up the night raids, launching fighter-bomber attacks, drone strikes and the huge troop surge. We have claimed repeatedly we understand it's impossible to "kill one's way out of an insurgency", yet that is almost the only course of action we have ever attempted. By any objective observation, that strategy has not only failed, but failed miserably.
To have any chance of safeguarding American and western interests beyond 2014, we must take the reasonable risk of aggressively seeking a ceasefire - even in this 11th hour - to provide the political space necessary to generate a negotiated settlement. Failure to try may unnecessarily put at risk all that was accomplished by the thousands of American and British soldiers who have already paid the ultimate price.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and do not represent the views of the Department of Defense or the United States Army.
2013 Guardian News and Media Limite
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| Ander Nieuws week 26 / Midden-Oosten 2013 |