Taliban Almost Takes Key Afghan City Amid Peace Talks

At the end of August, the Taliban nearly took the strategic Afghan city of Kunduz. According to US News, the bulk of the Kunduz offensive took place between August 20th and 26th. During this time, the Taliban took several checkpoints, captured two bases, and displaced approximately 60,000 people before being pushed back by a series of airstrikes orchestrated by Afghan government forces. However, the Taliban has denied responsibility for the attacks. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in a statement that “from the start of the year we never had plans of large attacks on any big city for one reason, and that is the peace process.”

The Kunduz offensive, one small conflict in the 19-year war that has ravaged the country, occurred while Kabul government and Taliban representatives began peace talks in Doha, Qatar. The Trump administration paved the way for these peace negotiations and seeks a “comprehensive ceasefire,” writes US News. The U.S. State Department, led by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, serves as a mediator amid tense negotiations, reports The New York Times.

The United States, which stationed as many as 100,000 troops in Afghanistan in 2011, has a vested interest in the success of these peace talks, according to NPR. President Trump has claimed that “the United States will play an important role in bringing the parties to end the decades-long war.” As dictated by the February deal between the U.S. and the Taliban, the number of American troops in Afghanistan is scheduled to fall to 4,500 in November. According to US News, this pact sets May 2021 as the date for the final withdrawal of U.S. soldiers from the country.

The 9/11 terrorist attacks, during which almost 3,000 American lived were lost, catalyzed American involvement in Afghanistan. The United States initially occupied the country because there was evidence that Afghanistan harbored terrorists, namely members of al Qaeda, the group behind the 9/11 attacks. This war has been the United States’ longest to date, writes US News.

Since the February peace deal, 800 Afghan civilians have been killed and 1,600 wounded. The terms of the accord stipulate that the United States will shut down five Afghan military bases and honor the current ceasefire with the Taliban while slowly withdrawing its military presence. In exchange, the Taliban has made a commitment to keep terrorists out of Afghanistan and prevent terror attacks, although there have been reports that extra-nationals affiliated with al Qaeda are in the country. Finally, reports NPR, the Afghan government is set to release 5,000 members of the Taliban in exchange for the release of 1,000 Afghan security forces.

It is unclear what form Afghanistan’s government will take following the Doha peace talks. The New York Times warns of a clash between disparate visions of a “strict Islamic theocracy and a democratic republic.” NPR suggests that the talks will stress the importance of forming a political system predicated on Islamic values that also protects the rights of all citizens. Much emphasis has been placed on the importance of an inclusive peace process. Thus, writes NPR, “gender equality and the rights of ethnic and religious minorities will be front and center, as the two sides confront a history of oppression by the Taliban.” In support of this aim, there are five Afghan women and a religious scholar present at the talks.

The offensive at Kunduz undermines the peaceful ends promoted by both the Afghan government and the Taliban. It is clear that the Taliban wants to maintain its military strength for the time being, possibly to gain leverage during the talks. According to an anonymous source from US News, “[T]here is a common theory here: the more gain on the battleground, the bigger the share on the negotiating table.”