Era ended in July 2016 after he took office in early 2017,
US President Donald Trump’s former ambassador to Afghanistan has gone on the offensive with his most scathing critique of US policy in the country. Writing in the Financial Times, Zalmay Khalilzad writes:
When [Trump] took office, he promised to put America first and the hunt for global terrorists would be the primary objective of his administration. The United States is at war with global terrorism… But this outlook, this focus, blinds the administration to a very different war, a real war with real enemies, a war that is raging within Afghanistan and has emerged over the last three years in Afghanistan as a rather important theatre of war for the United States. It is a war against the Taliban and al-Qaida. I have been a longstanding opponent of the war and of the strategy used to support it. But I must also acknowledge my concerns about how it is being pursued.
Khalilzad has gone on the offensive before with his blistering critique of what he describes as “the massive scale of the war in Afghanistan.” In June, while still an ambassador in Washington, he told a packed London conference of power brokers in Europe and the US, including UK intelligence chief Andrew Parker, that there was “no end in sight” for the US-led war against the Taliban.
Speaking on state TV during the Geneva-based conference, Khalilzad, a longtime war-lord’s son, said:
The US strategy is now… to take the Taliban back to the fighting grounds. The Taliban will not take them back to the battle grounds. They cannot. And the US strategy is flawed and has failed. They are not capable of creating security.
American counter-terrorism activity in Afghanistan and Pakistan began in 2001 and spread to nearly every country in the region, transforming a static set of foreign troop deployments from nine to 34 today, says Khalilzad, who was Afghanistan’s foreign minister when it hosted the Taliban when it ruled Afghanistan, fleeing into exile in 1996.
Now a prominent and powerful analyst and adviser to the Afghan government, Khalilzad was Afghanistan’s ambassador to the United States during his yearlong tenure ending in July 2016. He said he wrote the article in response to questions about his reports that suggested Trump’s election had created a departure from his predecessor Barack Obama’s sustained engagement with Afghanistan.
Khalilzad’s criticism is full of demagoguery and polemics. The main focus of his piece is the mindset that he believes has been deliberately instilled in US counterterrorism and counter-insurgency efforts in Afghanistan by its failure to understand the Taliban’s guiding principle of working within the framework of the constitution. “The so-called American victories [military actions against the Taliban] are being achieved by hitting terrorist leaders in their countries of origin, and the Taliban leaders are not in their countries of origin,” Khalilzad writes. “This means that you cannot have a military victory without a political one.”
Similarly, Khalilzad attacks Trump for waging a “slack escalation” of the war with little progress. The pillar of his article is the logic of counter-insurgency – whether or not you want to argue that counter-insurgency has produced little, or it is no more successful than previous efforts. Khalilzad makes the same refrain for Taliban, saying that, on Afghanistan’s conflict, “they are soft-hearted, and they don’t have an enemy they are fighting.”
Despite mounting deaths, local support, and shifting alliances for the Taliban, after roughly 15 years, “the Taliban is perfectly stable. It is led by competent politicians, it has ministers, governors, provinces, and government institutions.” Khalilzad insists. Yet, the effort to believe it otherwise makes a mockery of its counter-insurgency strategy.
Read Zalmay Khalilzad’s article in full at the Financial Times.