When we first learned back in January that peace talks with the Taliban were underway, I expressed a number of concerns. The Taliban are murderous, repressive thugs who can’t be trusted for much of anything. But at the same time, I was forced to admit that we were running out of options unless we are willing to concede that we’re going to be in Afghanistan forever, propping up a government that controls a decreasing amount of territory every year.
The peace talks may be continuing, but the Taliban is proving once again that they speak out of two sides of their faces. The Boston Globe reports this week that even as the peace talks are underway, the former rulers of Afghanistan are out there ambushing the government’s military forces. This week they wiped out an entire company.
Taliban fighters killed or captured an entire Afghan National Army company of more than 50 soldiers Monday, Afghan officials said, the latest in a series of major attacks by the militant group even as it pursues a peace deal with the United States.
The attack, in which the Taliban were reported to have killed 16 soldiers and taken 40 prisoners, took place in northwestern Badghis province, close to the country’s western border with Turkmenistan. It came as Taliban negotiators entered a third week of talks with US diplomats in the Persian Gulf kingdom of Qatar.
In the assault, a large force of Taliban insurgents surrounded a base in the Bala Murghab district. After four hours of fighting, the militants captured or killed all of the soldiers in their base, as well as others at two outposts nearby, according to Abdul Aziz Beg, head of the Badghis provincial council.
At this point, the city of Bala Murghab and the surrounding Badghis province in northwestern Afghanistan is essentially lost. Much like many of the other rural provinces, the Taliban have almost completely retaken control and both government forces and American troops can only travel out there in force with any safety. The residents of those regions are effectively back under Taliban rule.
This represents yet another reason that we’re not going to get away with any sort of Nixonian “peace with honor” situation by simply declaring victory and going home. The first victories came when we initially broke the Taliban’s hold on the nation during the first months and years after our arrival and oversaw their (mostly) free and fair elections. The real victory came when OBL was finally shot in the head and dumped unceremoniously into the ocean. (And that didn’t even happen in Afghanistan.)
Beyond that, there aren’t really any more “victories” to be had in Afghanistan. It rankles American sensibilities to be negotiating with a bunch of terrorists like the Taliban, and rightly so. But what options are left to us? We can’t stay there forever in a country that we’re never, ever going to completely convert over to a freedom and democracy agenda. And the longer we keep at it, the more of our own troops and those of our allies are going to die or be captured. It pains me to say it, but it’s probably time to take what gains we’ve been able to manage and get out of Dodge.
But we should do so with a clear vision and prepare the nation for the fact that the Taliban will most assuredly betray us on any deal we make on the way out. We also need to provide an exit plan for those who fought with us or assisted our efforts, particularly the civilian translators who worked with our troops. If we fail to do that, an awful fate awaits them when the Taliban gets hold of them.