By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
ABOARD A U.S. MILITARY AIRCRAFT, May 22, 2014 – The Afghan Taliban’s ability to reach a peace agreement with the government in Kabul will continue to erode over time, especially after April’s elections in which Afghans demonstrated they were not going to be intimidated by threats from the militants to boycott the vote, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said today.
“I don’t give military advice to the Taliban, but if I were giving them advice, I’d tell them their negotiating position is not going to improve, it’s going to erode,” Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey said as he flew back to Washington from NATO meetings in Brussels.
The chairman discussed Afghanistan and the way ahead there with NATO and partner-country chiefs of defense today, and he was pleased with what he has heard.
The Taliban issued their now yearly fighting season threat earlier this month after the Afghan people voted in large number in provincial and presidential elections April 5, in what Dempsey called a clear rejection of the group.
Despite threats to Afghans who took part in the election, “Seven million people chose to ignore the Taliban and that’s a huge statement on the part of the Afghan people to the Taliban,” the chairman said in an interview.
“If [the Taliban] are not experiencing a crisis of purpose, they should be, because they haven’t been able to convince the people of Afghanistan that their future should be with the Taliban and not with an elected government,” he said.
The election was just the latest in a string of Afghan successes by the country’s security forces. Afghan forces protected the loya jirga last November where more than 2,500 local tribal and community leaders again decried the Taliban, saying Afghans’ future is with democratic principles.
A run-off election will be held June 14 between the two top candidates who emerged from the April viote. Both former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah and former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani have promised to sign the bilateral security agreement with the United States and the Status of Forces agreement with NATO, which would allow for a continued U.S. and coalition military presence in the country after the current NATO mission ends in December.
Once that happens, Dempsey said, “I would think the Taliban would realize their opportunity to reconcile or reintegrate is a wasting opportunity.” If they don’t take advantage of it now they will be in a weaker position later.”
Dempsey described the Afghan security forces as emerging as a capable force. “They can defend their centers of population, they can protect their lines of communication,” he said. “In order to be completely capable there are some things that had to continue to develop: their logistics system and their ability to pay and house and feed and equip their force.”
That’s what U.S. and NATO advisors are working on now, developing the capabilities at these higher levels like building campaign plans, leader development and fusing intelligence and operations.
Marine Corps Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., the NATO commander in Afghanistan, briefed the chiefs of defense, and his principle point was as the NATO footprint gets smaller in Afghanistan and the organization focuses on building the institutions.
“So whether we end up with 10,000 or 15,000 or 5,000 [forces] it’s got to be the right kind of people,” Dempsey said. “If he needs somebody to teach the Afghans how to do a defense budget, you don’t need an infantryman, he needs someone to put a budget together.”