Kabul: The Afghan government is too weak to win a negotiated settlement without a new military strategy, the U.S. envoy to the war-ravaged country said on Tuesday. “The situation is very concerning, and our expectation is that both the government and the Talibs would focus on a political settlement,” Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. special representative for Afghanistan, said at the Aspen Security Forum.
With the Taliban surging, it’s now necessary for the government to find its “military bearings,” he said. Khalilzad spoke as the Taliban makes military advances across the country and the U.S. prepares to complete its withdrawal from the country before the end of the month. The U.S. has spent at least $837 billion on “warfighting and reconstruction” in the country over two decades.
Also speaking at the annual foreign policy forum, retired General David Petraeus, who oversaw U.S. forces in Afghanistan until 2011 and later headed the Central Intelligence Agency, warned of an “increasingly dire security situation” inside Afghanistan. He called the outlook “very, very grim indeed.” Reversing that situation to prevent a Taliban takeover would require the U.S. going back into Afghanistan to provide close air-support and reconnaissance, an unlikely move by the Biden administration at this point, Petraeus said.
On Tuesday, the congressionally mandated Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction warned that the U.S. was leaving behind a country which “remains poor, aid-dependent and conflict-affected, with any potential economic growth in the short term further limited by the lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.” Khalilzad said that any political settlement in Afghanistan would need to be broad-based, respect women’s rights, and respect international law. But military realities stand in the way of reaching such a settlement, he said. The Taliban has been “emboldened” by its recent military advances and is in a “maximalist frame of mind” when it comes to a negotiated settlement, Khalilzad said. They are “demanding that they take the lion’s share of power in the next government given the military situation,” he said.
The center of Kabul, the Afghan capital, was shaken Tuesday by a powerful blast, Reuters reported.
This comes even as Afghanistan is urging for an emergency session of the UNSC. The Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan Mohammad Hanif Atmar, during a telephone conversation on Tuesday evening with the Minister of External Affairs of India S. Jaishankar, talked about the escalation of violence, widespread human rights violations by the Taliban and foreign terrorist groups operations in Afghanistan, and the need to hold a special session of the UN Security Council on Afghanistan. India currently holds the rotating presidency of the United Nations Security Council.
Minister Atmar discussed the unprecedented increase in the Taliban’s brutal attacks on the Afghan people, which have resulted in the killing of scores of civilians and displacement of many thousands of others. Atmar also highlighted the war crimes committed by the Taliban in their recent attacks carried out in collusion with foreign fighters and terrorist groups in Afghanistan, calling them flagrant violations of international humanitarian law and warned of catastrophic ramifications. Given the catastrophic consequences of the Afghan war on stability, security, and prosperity in the region, the Foreign Minister raised with his Indian counterpart the proposition of Kabul regarding convening an emergency UN Security Council meeting on issues related to Afghanistan, particularly an immediate cessation of violence and the success of peace talks.
The Indian Minister of External Affairs expressed his country’s deep concern over the escalation of violence, insecurity, and explicit human rights violations by the Taliban and terrorists in Afghanistan. Jaishankar called the holding of the UN Security Council meeting important for the immediate cessation of human rights abuses and the establishment of lasting peace and stability in Afghanistan and the region. He reassured Minister Atmar of his country’s commitment to reviewing Afghanistan’s proposal and conducting the necessary consultations. The two sides also discussed the agenda and the level of participation in the upcoming meetings on the Afghan peace process in Doha.
The surge in violence is being reported even as the US Central Command on Tuesday said that since the US President’s decision to withdraw, the DoD has retrograded the equivalent of approximately 984 C-17 loads of material out of Afghanistan and have turned nearly 17,074 pieces of equipment to the Defense Logistics Agency for disposition. The 17,074 pieces of equipment comprise almost entirely federal excess personal property. Most of this equipment is not defensive articles or considered to be major equipment.
Also, the U.S. has officially handed over seven facilities to the Afghan Ministry of Defense. However, NATO is stepping up deliveries of military equipment to Afghanistan as the alliance withdraws its forces from the country. So far this year, NATO has donated roughly US$72 million worth of supplies and equipment to the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces, ranging from medical supplies to high-tech combat simulators, hospital X-ray machines, and specialist equipment to defuse bombs. The latest delivery arrived on Monday.
“The security situation in Afghanistan remains deeply challenging, so these supplies arrive at an important time,” said acting NATO spokesperson Dylan White. “As we withdraw our forces from the country, we will continue to support Afghanistan, including with equipment to help the Afghan forces better provide for their own security,” he said. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg reiterated NATO’s continued support for Afghanistan in a call with President Ashraf Ghani on July 27, noting that this will include funding, civilian presence, and out-of-country training.
Among the NATO-funded supplies is medical gear to treat wounded soldiers on the battlefield and equipment for Kabul’s National Medical Hospital. The supplies also include firefighting trucks, body armor and teaching materials to help children spot and avoid landmines. Projects are aimed at strengthening the Afghan security forces, especially in the areas of logistics, organization, education and medicine. The equipment has been funded through the NATO-run Afghan National Army Trust Fund. As of May, total contributions made to the Trust Fund since 2007 amounted to around US$3.5 billion, of which roughly $440 million have gone toward supplies and equipment.