Within hours of opening an office for peace talks in the Gulf emirate of Qatar, Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan launched a deadly ambush on an American convoy, and the Afghan government separately broke off talks on military cooperation with the United States.
It was at best a rocky prelude to peace talks with the Taliban, which have collapsed repeatedly in the past. American officials have long pushed for such talks, believing them crucial to stabilizing Afghanistan after the withdrawal of Western forces next year.
Earlier on Tuesday, the American military had formally handed over control of security in all of Afghanistan to Afghan forces, a development that was followed hours later with the three sides announcing that peace talks would begin at the new Taliban offices in Doha, Qatar.
US troops in Afghanistan will end “most” combat operations this spring, US President Barack Obama and Afghan counterpart Hamid Karzai have agreed.
American forces are expected to switch to a support role, slightly earlier than originally scheduled, as Afghan troops take the security lead.
The two leaders also backed the holding of talks between the Afghan government and Taliban leaders in Doha, Qatar.
Most of the 66,000 US troops in Afghanistan are due to leave in 2014.
“Starting this spring, our troops will have a different mission - training, advising, assisting Afghan forces,” Mr Obama said in remarks at the White House on Friday, as Mr Karzai stood alongside.
More: US Troops Will End ‘Most’ Afghanistan Combat This Spring
The endgame has begun in the Afghan war, but the facts on the ground don’t offer a hopeful picture. Now that all the “surge” troops have left, the Afghan army will have to step up and take more responsibility.
After 11 years of extensive training, they certainly should be ready. But they’re not. Far from it, in fact.
Last month, American and NATO troops announced that they would no longer go on patrol with their Afghan counterparts. The reason, of course, was the spate of so-called green-on-blue killings—Afghan military trainees shooting and killing their teachers. More than 50 US and coalition troops have been killed in insider attacks so far this year, a significant increase. During all of 2011, 35 NATO soldiers were killed.
This change in strategy was widely reported, but a disheartening corollary fact was hardly mentioned: the NATO training mission publicly acknowledged last year that, even after a decade, none of the Afghan military units are ready to fight on their own. Afghan forces, NATO still says, can fight effectively only if US or other NATO troops accompany and advise them.
So now, with coalition forces refusing to go along, even the military officers who have spent all these years training them admit that the Afghan soldiers are incapable of fighting effectively.
Part of the problem is their state of mind. Afghan soldiers, even those soldiers who aren’t planning to kill any of their erstwhile allies, still remain openly resentful of their Western trainers. They’re thinking about the “Innocence of Muslims” video, the accidental burning of those Korans, and numerous other perceived slights.