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The Taliban massacred 150 people in Kabul. Now they're calling for peace.

“Our preference is to solve the Afghan issue through peaceful dialogue.”

by Tim Hume
Feb 15 2018, 11:00am

Getty Images

The Taliban published an open letter to America Wednesday, calling on Washington to come to the negotiating table so that both sides can end the war.

But the U.S. military has said recent devastating attacks on civilians show the Taliban is not genuinely interested in peace, and analysts doubt it will lead to any meaningful breakthrough in the conflict, long mired in a battlefield stalemate.

“Will it lead to peace? No,” said Emily Winterbotham, a senior research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute. “It’s good at least that they’re saying they think about peace, but I don’t think it will change the status quo.”

The 2,800-word letter, released by the Taliban spokesman, Zabiullah Mujahid, said that the Islamist militant group wants to end the 17-year conflict.

“Our preference is to solve the Afghan issue through peaceful dialogue,” the letter read.

But it warned the offer shouldn’t be taken as a sign of weakness, pledging that the war would grind on indefinitely if U.S. troops remained.

“If the policy of using force is continued for another one hundred years,” it said, “the outcome will be the same.” The letter cited thousands of U.S. and foreign lives lost, the tens of billions of dollars spent and last year’s 87 percent rise in heroin production as evidence the war was unwinnable.

The group’s rare public overture to the American people, which was also addressed to “peace-loving congressmen,” comes at a time of increased bloodshed in Afghanistan.

President Donald Trump’s push for a more aggressive approach has led to a surge in troops and airstrikes, and driven the Taliban back in some cities. But the militants continue to control or contest just under half of the country and have demonstrated an enduring ability to launch devastating bomb attacks in the capital, with 150 people killed in Kabul last month.

While neither side appears capable of winning outright, the recent Taliban attacks seem to have hardened U.S. resolve against talks. Previous moves toward negotiations have fallen flat.

A spokesman for the NATO-led military mission, Capt. Tom Gresback, said the recent Kabul attacks showed the group wasn’t ready to be a genuine partner in talks.

“The Taliban statement alone does not show willingness to engage in peace talks. The Taliban’s recent horrific terror attacks in Kabul speak louder than these words,” he said. “The Afghan government can only negotiate to end the war if the Taliban are ready. The recent attacks show this is not the case.”

Winterbotham said that the letter, which followed a statement addressed to Trump directly last year urging him to carry out “a complete withdrawal” of troops, was unlikely to change anything.

The Taliban’s aggressive targeting of civilians suggested it was not overly interested in a solution, while Washington’s stance on negotiating an end to the war was also murky, she said. “The U.S.’s position towards peace talks has been unclear for a number of years and Trump’s strategy – the increase in drone strikes and troops – has only confused the situation further.”

Cover image: Fighters with Afghanistan's Taliban militia stand with their weapons in Ahmad Aba district on the outskirts of Gardez, the capital of Paktia province, on July 18, 2017. (FARIDULLAH AHMADZAI/AFP/Getty Images)