Summer is over. The “surge” is over. And American hopes for a negotiated peace in Afghanistan seem to be fading, too.
With the close of summer, the Taliban, NATO, and the Afghan security forces are settling in to a familiar seasonal cycle of warfare. As air temperatures cool, so does the intensity of armed clashes. Even so, August was the second deadliest month for civilians since 2007, and attacks by Afghan soldiers on NATO forces continue to be a major problem. “Green-on-blue” attacks (and suicides) are taking a significant toll on the ISAF force.
The United States, which has always provided the core of external pro-government forces, now has only 68,000 personnel in country, a 30 percent reduction over the surge’s peak. Most other NATO partner countries are anxious to withdraw their smaller contingents; some European states may not live up to their resource commitments, due to pressure from domestic publics.
What has the surge achieved? The Taliban has lost much territory over the last few years. Still, the surge has not sufficiently damaged the insurgents, so as to compel them to settle at the negotiating table. Indeed, The New York Times is reporting today that senior American officials now acknowledge that a negotiated settlement is not likely before the 2014 NATO withdrawal deadline.
The Obama administration is optimistically hoping that the Afghan security forces will be able to hold their own as NATO pulls back. The U.S. administration is simply bowing to American public opinion. As Niall Ferguson persuasively argues in his book Colossus, America has long been reluctant to stay engaged in difficult overseas entanglements. That said, the United States will soon mark the beginning of year 12 in Afghanistan. Given the relative harmony of Romney’s and Obama’s positions on the Afghanistan war, it seems certain that this war of attrition will not see a third decade with American involvement. Sadly, there is a good chance that Afghans will still be at war in 2021.
*** Did you like what you read here? You might be interested in the new book by this blog’s author, Failed States: Realities, Risks, and Responses.