Dan­gers in the vac­uum

The U.S. has in­vested too much in Afghanistan to see it fall.

The Washington Post Sunday - - SUNDAY OPINION -

CAR­NAGE HAS again spread across a city in Afghanistan. On Satur­day, U.S. forces may have mis­tak­enly bombed a trauma hos­pi­tal run by Doc­tors With­out Borders in Kun­duz, in Afghanistan’s north, killing at least 19 peo­ple and in­jur­ing many more. The bomb­ing oc­curred dur­ing a bat­tle with Tal­iban fight­ers who, in a sur­pris­ing show of strength, briefly cap­tured Kun­duz last week, the first ma­jor ur­ban cen­ter to fall to the mili­tia in 14 years. The de­mor­al­ized Afghan army put up a slow and halt­ing re­sponse, but even­tu­ally coun­ter­at­tacked, and re­took the city, although there is con­tin­ued fight­ing.

The Tal­iban at­tack on Kun­duz was part of a larger se­ries of strikes across the north from Sept. 23 to Oct. 1 that are be­ing com­manded by Akhtar Mo­ham­mad Man­sour, long-time deputy to Mo­ham­mad Omar, the Tal­iban leader whose death two years ago was con­firmed last sum­mer. Mr. Man­sour, whose le­git­i­macy had been chal­lenged by ri­vals, seems to be us­ing the of­fen­sive to con­sol­i­date his po­si­tion and demon­strate his mil­i­tary prow­ess.

Pres­i­dent Ashraf Ghani, who had hoped to carry out peace talks with the Tal­iban, said that con­flict is con­tin­u­ing in 10 to 13 of Afghanistan’s 34 prov­inces; talks were sus­pended at the time Mr. Omar’s death was con­firmed. Cer­tainly, it would be in Afghanistan’s in­ter­est to get the Tal­iban to the ta­ble.

In the United States, some may be tempted to see the latest flare-up and the hos­pi­tal dis­as­ter as a warn­ing not to get more deeply in­volved. But there are also dan­gers in a vac­uum.

Ever since Pres­i­dent Obama com­mit­ted to the with­drawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan, the Tal­iban has been wait­ing and cal­cu­lat­ing the mo­ment of their re­turn. About 9,800 U.S. troops re­main in Afghanistan, but the United States and NATO have wound down their com­bat role— they are there to ad­vise and train Afghan forces — and Mr. Obama has pledged a com­plete pull­out by the end of his term.

Ac­cord­ing to The Post’s Mo­ham­mad Sharif and Tim Craig, dur­ing the Kun­duz con­flict, Afghan forces ap­peared to be close to the break­ing point be­cause of de­clin­ing morale. “In frank dis­cus­sions with coali­tion com­man­ders,” they re­ported, “Afghan gen­er­als have pleaded for more help from the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity.”

The hos­pi­tal bomb­ing is cer­tain to in­ten­sify a sense of fa­tigue with the war. There’s no dis­put­ing that Afghans must shoul­der the bur­den of the fight. But it would help keep the Tal­iban at bay if Mr. Obama re­versed course and made clear that U.S. troops will de­part when it is safe to do so, not ac­cord­ing to a po­lit­i­cal cal­en­dar.

The Tal­iban is pa­tient, and the United States has in­vested too much over the years to see Afghanistan fall deeper into the abyss, yet again.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.