Tags: Gates | Karzai | Taliban | fail

Gates: Karzai Taliban Reconciliation Plan to Fail

Monday, 18 January 2010 10:23 PM

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said Monday that there could be a surge of Taliban followers willing to reintegrate with the Afghan government of President Hamid Karzai, but that for now an Afghan government reconciliation with the Taliban leadership was unlikely.

Mr. Gates, who made his comments on his plane en route to India, was reacting to the announcement on Sunday of a major new Afghan initiative to offer jobs, security, education and other social benefits to Taliban followers who defect. The plan is in the final stages of preparation and has qualified support from American officials, who see luring large numbers of Taliban supporters to change sides as critical to success in Afghanistan.

But Mr. Gates, like other American officials, effectively ruled out reconciliation with the Taliban leader, Mullah Muhammad Omar. Mr. Karzai has offered repeatedly to talk directly with Mullah Omar, with little result, but Afghan officials are now considering removing his name from the United Nations list of terrorists. Those placed on the list are barred from international travel and their bank accounts can be frozen.

“I’d be very surprised to see a reconciliation with Mullah Omar,” Mr. Gates told reporters. “And I think it’s our view that until the Taliban leadership sees a change in the momentum and begins to see that they are not going to win, that the likelihood of significant reconciliation at senior levels is not terribly great.”

On the other hand, he said, “we may see a real growth of reintegration at the local or district or provincial level” as “people come under pressure and they know they can’t win and they know that if they reintegrate and accept the terms of the Afghan government, that they and their families can be protected.”

NATO officials estimate that there are 25,000 to 30,000 active Taliban fighters in Afghanistan. So far only a relatively small number have defected.

Mr. Gates said he had seen some early signs of success with the current surge of Marines into the southern Afghan province of Helmand, a Taliban stronghold, but he was cautious over all. “It’s early yet, and I don’t think anyone is prepared to go too far in sort of talking about success down there,” he said.

At the end of last year there were about 10,000 Marines in the province; their numbers are expected to grow to 20,000 by the summer. The Marines are part of the 30,000 additional troops President Obama ordered into Afghanistan late last year. Mr. Gates said he expected to have the vast majority — he put the figure at 92 percent — in Afghanistan by the end of August.

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Monday, 18 January 2010 10:23 PM
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