It's time to end the unwinnable war in Afghanistan

It's time to end the unwinnable war in Afghanistan
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Many in the U.S. are pinning their hopes for ending the Afghan War on the ongoing talks between Taliban representatives and former U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad. What few realize is that the two sides aren’t negotiating an end of the war, but merely the hoped-for beginning of negotiations between the Taliban and a fractured, divided Afghan Government. 

Not one more drop of American blood should be spilled in Afghanistan to support what will almost certainly be a years-long process of continued political and military conflict in Afghanistan. It is time — now — to bring our troops home.

The agreement, if one is eventually reached, won’t result in an end to the war, but merely start inter-Afghan discussions. Khalilzad himself admitted as much when he said his talks with the Taliban centered on, “efforts to achieve reduced violence and pave the way to intra-Afghan negotiations,” not end the war. 

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The Taliban did not hesitate to signal that even this limited goal would be a challenge when they warned just before Christmas that, “Intra-Afghan negotiations will begin only after an agreement with America on the withdrawal of all foreign troops from Afghanistan is signed.”

It’s not just the current state of play, however, that casts doubt on the ability of various envoys to end to the war any time soon. The negotiating history of the parties involved is littered with decades of failure.

In 1997 the United Nations established a negotiating group called the “Six Plus Two” contact group to negotiate an end to the Afghan civil war, composed of China, Iran, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan (with the U.S and Russia being the “plus two”). After two years of negotiations, the group signed the Tashkent Declaration, which laid out the international community’s key objectives for the parties of the conflict.

The signatories agreed that “there is no military solution to the Afghan conflict, which must be settled through peaceful political negotiation.” To begin talks, the sides must agree “on an immediate and unconditional ceasefire without any preconditions to establish a broad-based, multi-ethnic and fully representative Government.”

It took two years to negotiate the pact, but within months of signing it, both the Taliban and the Northern Alliance broke the ceasefire and resumed fighting.

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Following America’s post-9/11 invasion of Afghanistan, international actors again tried to negotiate an end to the fighting. In the December 2001 Bonn Agreement, the international community and Afghan officials determined “to end the tragic conflict in Afghanistan and promote national reconciliation, lasting peace, stability and respect for human rights in the country.” Not only did the various parties fail to find “lasting peace,” the fighting expanded.

Two years into his first term, President Obama and then-Afghan President Karzai began working with the Taliban to seek a negotiated settlement to end the war. By 2015 — after four years of failed peace efforts — Foreign Affairs optimistically reported that “Peace talks, if not peace itself, may be close at hand in Afghanistan. Over the past few months, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the Afghan Taliban have made unexpected strides toward talks.”

None of the peace efforts since 1997 have resulted at an end to the war. There is little reason to believe this current effort will be any more successful. 

As one who has engaged in a great deal of combat, no one wants peace more than I do. But we must now come face-to-face with this painful and irrefutable reality: This war has been raging — almost continuously — in one form or another since the Soviet invasion in 1979, and it is irrefutable that American combat troops will never bring about the end of the war in Afghanistan, no matter how many decades we try.

It is time, therefore, to acknowledge that we will never be able to leverage our military power to impose an end of the war on the Afghan people. They and they alone will have to resolve their decades’ lengthy disputes.

Already 2,441 Americans have lost their lives in Afghanistan — 20 this year alone. More than 20,000 others have been wounded.

Not one more drop of American blood should be spilled trying to solve the unsolvable in Afghanistan. We should coordinate closely with our Afghan and NATO partners, conduct the withdrawal in an orderly and professional manner, and end the war on our terms. We can remain engaged with Kabul diplomatically and economically, but the military aspect of our mission must end.

Daniel L. Davis is a senior fellow for Defense Priorities and a former Lt. Col. in the U.S. Army who retired in 2015 after 21 years, including four combat deployments. Follow him on Twitter: @DanielLDavis1.