Trump looks to steer UN effort on Afghanistan, with McMaster and Haley at the helm

Trump looks to steer UN effort on Afghanistan, with McMaster and Haley at the helm
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Ending the 16-year conflict in Afghanistan has been fraught with trouble for two U.S. presidents and the leaders of its allied governments. Now the Trump administration is trying to get United Nations help, after reversing course on campaign promises to end the $700 billion conflict.

On Tuesday, the Trump administration’s national security adviser, Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, arrived at the U.S. Mission to the U.N. in New York to brief the Security Council on Afghanistan, a meeting hosted by U.S. Ambassador Nikki HaleyNimrata (Nikki) HaleyGuatemala asks President Trump to weaken anti-corruption commission US turned to threats to fight breastfeeding resolution: report Former UN envoys urge Pompeo to restore funding for Palestinian aid agency MORE.

The briefing comes as President TrumpDonald John TrumpSasse: Trump shouldn't dignify Putin with Helsinki summit Top LGBT group projects message onto Presidential Palace in Helsinki ahead of Trump-Putin summit Hillary Clinton to Trump ahead of Putin summit: 'Do you know which team you play for?' MORE is changing gears on Afghanistan as he enters his second year in office. After decrying nation-building during his presidential campaign and dismissing the war as a “complete waste,” the president is sending thousands more troops — up from 11,000, to 15,000 — to the country and increasing airstrikes, in an effort to stabilize it.

In addition, Security Council members have planned a trip to Afghanistan, tentatively scheduled for later this week — part of the reason that the U.S. proposed the briefing, diplomats at the meeting said.

And Vice President Mike PenceMichael (Mike) Richard PenceIndiana has spent over million on cleanup of failed Pence family gas stations: report What really happened with the breastfeeding scandal in Geneva Pence heckled over Trump immigration policy: 'Where are the children?' MORE made an unannounced trip to Afghanistan in late December, to visit U.S. troops and hold a key meeting in the capital, Kabul, to urge Afghanistan's leaders to move forward with long delayed elections.


The Tuesday briefing was well received.

U.N. Afghanistan Ambassador Mahmoud Saikai tweeted, “Excellent briefing today by United States National Security Advisor General H.R. McMaster to members of UNSC in New York on the situation in Afghanistan.”

Russia’s ambassador, Vassily Nebenzia, told reporters after the meeting, "He briefed us on Afghanistan … it was very helpful,” and that on many points Nebenzia “would agree with him.”

Nebenzia said McMaster talked about the need for Russian-U.S. cooperation in Afghanistan “and referred to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s statement ‘thanking the Americans for being in Afghanistan, for doing the job.’ ”

On Wednesday, Kazakhstan’s press spokesperson, Alma Konurbayeva, said that country “shares the position of the U.S. to support the government of Afghanistan to counter terrorism, with the active involvement of the Security Council, the U.N. and the global community … but the priority in this process, the central role — Afghanistan should lead it.”

Writing in Foreign Affairs this month, Julia Gurganus said that U.S. and Russian aims in Afghanistan are not the same: “The U.S. approach is founded on creating a strong central government in Kabul and a well-equipped and well-trained national security force; Russia, meanwhile, works with a wide range of actors, some of which compete directly with the government in Kabul,” even reaching out to the Taliban and “legitimizing a group that continues to threaten the security of both the Afghan government and U.S. and NATO forces.” 

Despite U.S., Russian and U.N. involvement, violence and attacks by both the Taliban and the Islamic State (ISIS) continue unabated. An American service member was killed in combat and four others were wounded on New Year's Day.

And, in late December, at least 41 people were killed and 84 wounded in three explosions that hit the western part of Kabul, an attack claimed by ISIS.

The U.N. has attempted to mediate Afghan peace for some time, calling for a political settlement. The “Kabul Process,” as it is called, foresees a transition to greater Afghan responsibility and ownership, in both security and civilian areas, and is due to meet Feb. 1.

At that meeting, the government of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani is expected to present its strategy for reaching a settlement with the armed opposition, according to Tadamichi Yamamoto, U.N. envoy and head of the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan. He presented the Secretary General’s report on the country in December — a plan that seems as unlikely as ever.

Yamamoto told the Council: “We must use the upcoming winter months, when conflict levels tend to decrease, to advance on this issue before the cycle of violence is renewed next spring.”

In the meantime, Russia remains involved, waiting for the U.S. to abandon its enthusiasm for the war — and the Trump administration can only hope for U.N. cooperation

Pamela Falk, a U.N. resident correspondent and CBS News TV & Radio foreign affairs analyst, is former staff director of a subcommittee of the House of Representatives. Follow her on Twitter @PamelaFalk.