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US sends new commander to persuade Taliban to join talks

Updated September 02, 2018

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US commander for Afghanistan, Lieutenant General Austin S. Miller.
US commander for Afghanistan, Lieutenant General Austin S. Miller.

WASHINGTON: The new US commander for Afghanistan, Lieutenant General Austin S. Miller, takes charge of his command on Sunday, which requires him not only to fight the insurgents but also to persuade them to join peace talks.

As the in-charge of the Nato-led Operation Support, General Miller will also maintain regular contacts with the Pakistani military establishment.

He told his confirmation hearing in June this year that he had “very, very high expectations” of Pakistan working together with Afghanistan and the United States to eliminate terrorist safe havens.

He will also command more than 13,000 American troops based in Afghanistan and will supervise the Nato-led mission to train and advise the Afghan military.

His most difficult task, however, will be to persuade the Taliban to join peace talks, as Laurel E. Miller, a former US representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, pointed out.

“Throughout the ups and downs of this conflict, it’s become evident that the United States is not going to defeat the Taliban insurgency, even though it can prevent a Taliban victory,” Miller told The Washington Post.

The Trump administration wants its new commander in Afghanistan to achieve this goal with a combination of military and diplomatic manoeuvres.

General Miller and his troops are required to make the Taliban realise that they too cannot win this war and the only way forward for them is to sit down with the Kabul government and find a peaceful solution acceptable to both.

To weaken the Taliban’s resolve to continue the fight, the United States has intensified its air strikes at Taliban targets.

A US military newspaper The Military Times reported this week that US air strikes in Afghanistan were “reaching historically high numbers” as the US dropped more munitions in Afghanistan this year than it has since the height of the war.

The air strikes aimed at “convincing the insurgent force that negotiating with the Afghan government was their only option”, the report added.

At his confirmation in the Senate Armed Services Committee, General Miller also said he “cannot guarantee a timeline or end date … for any withdrawal” from Afghanistan but pledged to deal with all the challenge, including the “underlying challenge” of corruption and incompetence among Afghan officials.”

The 57-year-old general, who takes over from General John W. Nicholson Jr. on Sunday, will be the 17th US commander in Afghanistan since October 2001, when the United States started its longest-ever war.

General Miller, was heading the Joint Special Operations Command, before he was picked for Afghanistan, where he has served before, including a stint heading Special Operations forces there from 2013 to 2014.

Published in Dawn, September 2nd, 2018