Deja Vu
Russia Resurgent in Afghanistan?

With America’s longstanding presence in Afghanistan producing few lasting victories, the Wall Street Journal reports that Moscow is now making inroads, cooperating with the Taliban and frustrating U.S. efforts to support the fragile Afghan government:

Moscow last month disclosed details of contacts with the Taliban, saying that it is sharing information and cooperating with the radical movement on strategy to fight the local affiliate of Islamic State, which has gained a foothold in eastern Nangarhar province, on the border with Pakistan. […]

The revelation coincides with other Russian moves in Afghanistan that appear aimed, as in the Middle East and Europe, at undermining U.S. influence and seeking regional parity with Washington. […]

While the Afghan government of President Ashraf Ghani has publicly criticized any support for the Taliban, one of the biggest boosters of Russian moves in Afghanistan is his predecessor, Hamid Karzai. […]

“The fact is that the U.S. presence in Afghanistan has not brought security to us. It has caused more extremism,” Mr. Karzai said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal. “There has to be a balance of power here now.”

Obama came to office promising to bring a swift and successful conclusion to the Afghan war—the “war of necessity,” as he called it. Not only did Obama fail to end the war in any meaningful way, he watched as the Taliban surged and the Islamic State gained a foothold. And now, as in Syria, Moscow has rushed to step in.

President Trump has not yet taken a clear stance on Afghanistan, but it is difficult to imagine him doubling down on a 15-year military intervention he once denounced as a “complete and total disaster.” He has technically left the door open to a troop increase, presumably for counter-terror purposes, but there is little on his part that suggests a desire to engage in any kind of nation-building, the preferred approach of the outgoing President. Indeed, Afghanistan could be yet another theater where the Trump Administration would be happy to support Moscow’s efforts, even if it meant cooperating with the Taliban.

President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin talked on the phone for the first time this weekend, and will try to meet in person before the G-20 summit in July in Hamburg. We’ll see if Afghanistan features in whatever grand bargain the two manage to hash out—if they do.

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