Fourteen years of war, and a new General steps up. One place in particular where American special operators have been making headlines is Afghanistan. And the 9,800 U.S. troops there are about to get a new boss. If confirmed by the Senate, Army Lt. Gen. John “Mick” Nicholson will pin on a fourth star and head to Kabul in coming months to replace Gen. John Campbell, who is expected to retire. Nicholson, a veteran of multiple deployments to Afghanistan, is currently commander of NATO’s Allied Land Command in Izmir, Turkey. He’ll also appear before the Senate Armed Services Committee Thursday morning at 9:30 a.m. for a hearing on his nomination. Watch it live here.
Campbell took over the war in the summer of 2014, and was expected to be the general to close up shop on the U.S. and NATO presence in Afghanistan. But after shuttering hundreds of combat outposts across the country and ending the NATO combat mission on Jan. 1, 2015, Afghan security forces have faltered in the face of a consistent Taliban offensive. Despite Washington’s $60 billion investment in the Afghan army and police, Campbell has argued that they need several more years of training and support before they’re ready to stand alone. And now the next general steps up to take over the fight.To get a sense of the contours of the Taliban offensive, there is David Jolly's "Taliban Sabotage Cuts Major Power Source for Afghanistan Capital." The Taliban blew up a transmission tower in Baghlan, the province next to Kunduz. The Taliban took control of Kunduz City for two weeks in October. Now they are engaged in an offensive in Baghlan.
One of the passages in Jolly's piece that really jumps out at the reader is his description of the Afghan power grid:
Afghanistan suffers from a chronic power shortage, with less than 40 percent of the population even connected to the grid, according to World Bank data. Three-quarters of the country’s electricity is imported from the neighboring countries of Uzbekistan, Iran, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan. The long transmission lines leave Kabul vulnerable to outages from sabotage. As a result, backup generators are de rigueur among those who can afford them.After 14 years of U.S. occupation and hundreds of billions of dollars spent, two-thirds of the country is not connected to the power grid, and 75 percent of its electricity is imported. This tells you more about the failure of the U.S. mission in Afghanistan than the chronically dysfunctional Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police.
Jolly goes on to mention the Taliban offensive in Helmand Province in the country's south. Remember, it is winter, the season when fighting is supposed to wind down:
The unrest in the north is arguably not the worst of the government’s problems at the moment. Helmand Province, in the south, has been under siege for months, and officials say that only the timely dispatch of Afghan and American special forces kept it from completely falling under Taliban control toward the end of 2015.
On Wednesday morning, insurgents attacked a demining team in Nawabad village in the Greshk district of Helmand Province, killing at least three people, said Mohammad Ismail, the district police chief. He said the police quickly scattered the insurgents after a 30-minute gun battle. Had the police not arrived, he said, the insurgents would very likely have killed or kidnapped all of the deminers, employees of the Demining Agency for Afghanistan.The Chinese are reportedly getting antsy ("China Urging Afghanistan to Restart Peace Talks With Taliban" by Ed Wong; "China Considers Larger Role in Afghanistan Peace Process" by Ed Wong and David Jolly), worried that a collapsed Afghanistan ruled by various Salafist groups would serve as a transmission belt for jihadi Uighurs to destabilize western China's Xinjiang region. Also, as long as Afghanistan remains an oozing ulcer, Xi Jinping's "One Belt, One Road" development plan for Central Asia will be unable to achieve its full potential. One Belt, One Road is vital to China because it is the Dragon's counter to Obama's militarized Asia pivot. Hence, the Chinese are putting pressure on Pakistan to reboot peace talks between the Taliban and the Ghani government.
But what would peace with the Taliban look like? Is such a thing even possible? Would the Taliban agree to serve within a U.S.-created Afghan government? Is partition of the country on the table? It all seems like nonsense, a sentiment basically echoed by U.S. Army Officer Lemar Farhad in "Why Peace with the Taliban Is a Bad Idea: What Needs to Happen Instead":
Pakistan’s view of peace with the Taliban entails the placement of actual, dyed-in-the-wool Taliban ideologues in the ranks of the Afghan civilian and military establishments. This would result in infiltration of Afghan military and civilian cadres, by pro-Wahhabi partisans from Hekmatyar’s Hezbi-Islami and the Haqqani network.Unfortunately Farhad's solution is pure fantasy:
Establishing sustainable peace in Afghanistan, and the region at large, requires the total and unequivocal neutralization of the Taliban as a viable fighting force. This is because the Taliban and peace are antithetical to each other. Defeat of the Taliban requires a broad based international effort to dissuade the Pakistani government from supporting Taliban action in Afghanistan. The U.S. policy in particular should be geared at rendering Islamabad either incapable of aiding the Taliban or unwilling to do so. Declaring the Taliban as a foreign terrorist organization is the first step. After all, an insurgent force without protected safe-havens, financial institutions, resources, materiel, logistics capabilities, and a host-state will be unable to survive for long.For this to happen, the United States would have to confront Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. Absent a revolution in the homeland, that is not going to happen.
Maybe the best that can be hoped for is a "frozen conflict" a la countries of the former Soviet Union. A set of ceasefires with international monitors.