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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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  • Disappeared4x

    I am stumped by this reported Russia move with Afghan Taliban to fight ISIS in eastern Nangarhar province. Seems so 19th century…“the Afghans were perceived as mere pawns on the chessboard of western diplomacy, to be engaged or sacrificed at will. It was a precedent
    that was to be followed many other times, by several different powers, over the years and decades to come; and each time the Afghans would show themselves capable of defending their inhospitable terrain far more effectively than any of their would-be manipulators could possibly have suspected. …” ― William Dalrymple, Return of a King: The Battle for Afghanistan, 1839-42

    Dalrymple’s “Return of a King” is a must-read for anyone involved with Afghanistan, where history does repeat itself.

  • RedWell

    Obama dropped the ball on this. Trump is likely to hand it over.

    • f1b0nacc1

      You say that like it’s a bad thing…

      • RedWell

        It is. If, somehow, we can think that it is not, then the US is already collapsing as a great power with any political legitimacy.

        Trump should change his hats to “I Stand for American Weakness.”

        • f1b0nacc1

          Nonsense. Afghanistan was a bad idea in the first place (I am on record as saying that when 911 happened and the Taliban wouldn’t hand over Bin Laden, we should have bombed the crap out of them, then left them to contemplate the smoking ruins, not tried to rebuild the place), and admitting that it is a mistake and leaving is hardly the mark of collapse, but the sign of a wise and practical power.

          If you want to stand for weakness, collaborate in arming your deadly enemies with nuclear weapons. Now who could have done that?

          • RedWell

            Ronald Reagan.

          • f1b0nacc1

            Reagan armed our deadly enemies with nuclear weapons? Or is this another one of the ‘OMG we sold weapons to Iraq in the 80s’ hysterics?

            Clearly the US was willing to permit the Iraqis (who weren’t hostile to us at the time, I should point out, as opposed to the Iranians who were) to purchase all sorts of nastiness from other states (France and Britain, for the most part, though the Germans were happy to do a bit of business as well), but we didn’t sell nukes, and most of what we did sell was at worst dodgy, and more likely ill-advised. Even then, we stopped and certainly didn’t defend the practice as a positive good, something that the most recent former resident of the White House (what was that name again? …. tall fellow, great pants crease….just cannot remember the name….) has in fact done.

            Really, if you want to snark, you really need to do better than that.

          • RedWell

            I’m talking about nuclear arrangements with the Soviets. Agreements to deescalate an arms race and reduce the likelihood of war. The Iran deal, whatever its warts, is in the same vein of working around an adversaries’ weapons programs. This is different than diffusion of the weapons, but they both emerge from a mix of realism and idealism.

            Really, if you want to make presumptions, you really need to do better than that.

          • f1b0nacc1

            The SALT II agreement (as well as other agreements with the Soviets) was designed to denuclearize an enemy that already had nuclear weapons, not to (arguably) prevent one that didn’t have such weapons from acquiring them in the first place. Since there is very little reasonable expectation that Obama’s nefarious giveaway to the Iranians will have any positive impact (the recent ballistic missile tests should be sufficient evidence of that), it is ridiculous to assume that these two different approaches could be compared. Reagan successfully managed to get an enemy to ‘climb down’, while Obama encouraged one to escalate…

  • Fat_Man

    Let the Russians have them, and good luck to the Russians. Maybe they can set up a condominium with the Indians.

  • rpabate

    I hope Trump gives that God awful country to the Russians. A terrible shame that so much treasure and lives were lost on such a hopeless cause. Afghanistan being a client of Russian adds nothing to Russia, and probably even costs the Russians. In addition, China might not be too happy about it, but that could work to the U.S.’s advantage.

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