Analysis

US President Donald J. Trump’s America First approach will have to take a back seat when it comes to Afghanistan.

As the Trump administration wrestles with a decision on whether to send several thousand additional US troops to Afghanistan in an effort to end a fifteen-year-old war and make peace with the Taliban, there is a firm belief in policy circles that there is a critical need for the United States to deepen its engagement in that country.

Yet, with Trump there is a “real possibility that the United States, if it is not successful within some acceptable period of time, could choose to reduce its commitment to Afghanistan and ultimately withdraw,” said Ashley Tellis, Tata chair for strategic affairs at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “If that outcome occurs the door will be open to internecine regional competition in Afghanistan, which will only make circumstances in Afghanistan worse,” he added.

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By dropping the ‘mother of all bombs’ on an Islamic State target, the United States reaffirmed its commitment to fighting terrorism, said the Atlantic Council’s James B. Cunningham

The United States sent a clear message of its commitment to fighting terrorism when it dropped the so-called mother of all bombs on an Islamic State target in Afghanistan on April 13, said James B. Cunningham, a nonresident senior fellow with the Atlantic Council’s South Asia Center.

“It really is a military instrument used to accomplish a military task,” said Cunningham, a former US ambassador to Afghanistan, adding, “there is a political element to it as well in terms of showing our commitment and determination in this particular fight.”

The US military dropped the largest non-nuclear bomb in its arsenal on an Islamic State cave and tunnel complex in Achin district in Afghanistan’s eastern Nangarhar province. The GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast (MOAB), dubbed the “mother of all bombs,” is a 21,600-pound, GPS-guided munition. While dozens of people are believed to have been killed in the explosion, the Afghan defense ministry said civilians were not among the casualties.

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Afghan foreign minister sees threat to peace process

Russia’s support for the Taliban—a terrorist group with which the United States has been at war for more than fifteen years and that is dedicated to overthrowing Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s government—is causing considerable unease in Afghanistan where officials worry it will undermine efforts to make peace in their war-torn country.

“[E]stablishing contacts with these terrorist groups will give them a wrong message and they will think that the international community is recognizing them,” said Salahuddin Rabbani, Afghanistan’s foreign minister and a former head of the country’s High Peace Council. This, in turn, would undercut a peace and reconciliation process because the Taliban “will not be encouraged to come to the negotiating table,” he added.

The peace process has had scant success in part because, as Rabbani noted, Afghanistan’s eastern neighbor, Pakistan, continues to provide material support and sanctuary for the terrorists.

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Tighten your seat belts! South Asia, along with much of the rest of the world, should get ready for a more muscular, business-like, and unorthodox foreign policy under US President Donald Trump. His team of security and foreign policy experts, many of whom have unorthodox backgrounds and credentials, will help him implement a more personalized and business-like foreign relations regime. Trump has wasted no time in seizing the opportunity to reshape US foreign policy to better define and align it with US interests as he sees them.

Other than his self-created crisis in dealing with refugees and immigrants from the Musllim World, two areas will demand Trump’s immediate attention: the war in Afghanistan and foreign aid.

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Commitments at Warsaw and Brussels would send a clear signal to the Taliban, said official

NATO’s Warsaw summit in July and a European Union conference in Brussels in October must provide clear commitments to Afghanistan in order to boost the prospects of peace in that country, a senior Obama administration official said at the Atlantic Council on June 21.

Asserting a US commitment to an Afghan-led peace process with the Taliban, Richard Olson, the US special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, said: “The Taliban’s leadership, with its refusal to come to the negotiating table, has apparently reached a different conclusion. Perhaps they believe victory through violence in achievable; perhaps they remain unconvinced of the sincerity of the invitation to negotiate.”

“The Taliban are mistaken if they think they can wait for us to withdraw our support believing that the Afghan forces will somehow become vulnerable to defeat as the international community disengages,” he said. “This is why the commitments at Warsaw, including the funding through 2020, are so important. That is the only way to demonstrate that the commitment is going to be lasting and that if the Taliban seek to have a role in Afghanistan it will have to be through negotiations.”

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Drone strike should send a signal that the United States will not tolerate terrorist safe havens, said Atlantic Council’s James B. Cunningham

The US drone strike that killed Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour in Pakistan over the weekend should send a clear signal that the United States will no longer tolerate terrorist sanctuaries in Pakistan, said the Atlantic Council’s James B. Cunningham.

“I hope that this is the beginning of a message that we will not tolerate any more the strategic challenge that is posed by the leadership of the Taliban being in Pakistan and having a safe haven there,” Cunningham, a nonresident senior fellow in the Atlantic Council’s South Asia Center and former US ambassador to Afghanistan, said in an interview.

“To really get to a peace discussion [in Afghanistan], the Taliban have to come to the conclusion that the option of military force and terror will not get them back to the establishment of the emirate, which is what they want,” he said. “In order for that to happen, the status quo needs to be disrupted and that means we need to find a way to impact the safe havens in Pakistan."

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The “integration of civil-military forces” and “sustainable economic development” are critical to the success of state-building efforts, Zalmay Khalilzad, a former US Ambassador to Afghanistan, Iraq, and the United Nations, said at the Atlantic Council on April 20.

“There was a clear road map for political transition [in Afghanistan], but we never knew what the final institutions would look like,” said Khalilzad, who is a member of the Atlantic Council’s Board of Directors.

In Afghanistan, differences between former electoral rivals—President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah—have made it hard to confirm the appointments of officials, including Cabinet Ministers.

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Deadly suicide bombing in Kabul points to need for Pakistan to end support for terrorists, says Atlantic Council’s James B. Cunningham

A deadly suicide bombing in Kabul shows that the Taliban are determined to drag out the conflict, but it also adds a sense of urgency for Pakistan to end its support for the militants, said the Atlantic Council’s James B. Cunningham.

“While it is good to see that there has been a broad range of international condemnation of the attack, including by the UN Security Council, it also shows the urgency for Afghanistan’s neighbors, particularly Pakistan, to take concrete steps to bring this conflict to an end,” said Cunningham, a former US Ambassador to Afghanistan and current Khalilzad Chair on Afghanistan and Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council.

“At some point we will have to collectively act on the reality that it will be very difficult, if not impossible, to bring the conflict to a political solution as long as the Taliban continue to be able to operate, plan, and move on Pakistani territory,” he added.

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Interview with Zalmay Khalilzad, former US Ambassador to Iraq, Afghanistan, and the United Nations

Zalmay Khalilzad served as the US Ambassador to Iraq, Afghanistan, and the United Nations in the George W. Bush administration. A member of the Atlantic Council’s Board of Directors, Khalilzad has recently authored an insightful and widely praised memoir—The Envoy. In a wide-ranging interview with the New Atlanticist’s Ashish Kumar Sen, he discussed the lessons learned from the US experiences in Afghanistan and Iraq, prospects for peace with the Taliban, and US diplomacy in a post-Iran nuclear deal Middle East, among other issues. Here are excerpts from our interview.

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Afghanistan’s First Lady, Rula Ghani, delivered a spirited defense of her husband’s administration on March 31 and warned that “repeated half truths take a life of their own…and suddenly become conventional wisdom.”

Speaking at the Atlantic Council, Ghani described and disputed numerous “myths” about Afghanistan that she said exist in the West, particularly in the Western media.

Journalists, in their rush to deliver a breaking story, hardly have time to check their facts, she said. She took particular issue with a recent Washington Post article that cited what the reporter identified as former members of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s administration expressing their discontent with the government in Kabul.

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