Unannounced visits to Kabul, especially in the dead of night, by US generals, both serving and retired ones holding official posts, have become quite the rage in recent months. If nothing else, these sudden, secret and short nocturnal visits best illuminate the reality of the precarious security situation prevailing in the Afghan capital, and military capability of Taliban to strike at will even in heavily defended areas. The latest, by the US defence secretary, was unique because reporters in his party were prevented from filing stories until he had safely reached the military coalition headquarters from Kabul airport. That is the grim reality despite massive air strikes, Afghan forces rearmament and offensives under the new Trump policy.
US strategy in Afghanistan has throughout been epitomised by confusion and muddled thinking. The latest, an intensity in air attacks intended to cripple the Taliban militarily and force them to the negotiating table, has only been partially successful. The US military’s December 2017 estimates reveal that Afghan government controls just 56 percent of the country’s districts, whereas the militant’s deadly reach extends to every part of Afghanistan. The US is now initially trying to divide the insurgents by ‘peeling off’ those insignificant elements from militant ranks who are amenable to President Ashraf Ghani’s offer of unconditional talks, as opposed to the formidable Taliban, who want direct talks with the US. The latest Mattis Kabul visit is apparently not only about appraisal of the war effort but also an interested equal eye on peaceful settlement. His reported statement, ‘We do look toward a victory in Afghanistan, not a military victory — the victory will be political reconciliation’, is welcome, despite being ambiguous, as usual. If the US is really serious about lasting peace in Afghanistan, it should first call for a cease-fire on both sides, followed by a joint US-Afghan-Taliban dialogue, cemented by international guarantors under UN umbrella, at which the Afghan people and the whole world would rejoice. That is the only way to break the years-old stalemate within a time frame, either this or endless, bloody war.