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US Embassy Denies Secret Eikenberry Talks With Taliban

The US embassy in Kabul has responded to the ThreatsWatch post yesterday highlighting a report in the Saudi al Watan newspaper saying Ambassador Eikenberry was in secret talks with the Taliban and offering territory in exchange for a cessation of rocket attacks on US bases. (See: Whispers of Surrender in Afghanistan?)

Early Tuesday morning, US Embassy spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden denied the veracity of the Sunday Saudi report.

"There is no truth to reports that the U.S. Embassy is engaging in secret talks with elements of the Taliban. Our position on the inclusion of Taliban and other fighters into Afghan society remains unchanged: we support the efforts of the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghan to reintegrate fighters and other disaffected individuals into society, under the Afghan constitution. This process must be Afghan-led."

We take the US embassy in Kabul at its word. The Tuesday morning denial is the first we have seen in response to the anonymously Afghan-sourced al-Watan report.

The issue of winning in Afghanistan is one of counterinsurgency, not counterterrorism. The insurgency is aimed at gaining a US withdrawal, which would be followed shortly by a Taliban toppling of the Afghan democracy. And insurgencies are won by populations, not by armies. But that said, without a blanket of security which can only be consistently provided by a strong military presence, no population would side with an army, foreign or domestic, which it believes may vacate before the murderous insurgents.

Whispers of talks which include ceding territories between the US and the Taliban erodes Afghan public confidence in America's stomach for the fight. This in turn translates into diminished cooperation from Afghans with allied forces and perhaps more siding with the Taliban. For us, it's a debate. For them, it's survival in their homeland.

At the time of the report, we interpreted initially that, if the talks indeed happened, the source was likely a panicked Afghan within the government who saw the handwriting on the wall and wanted desperately to derail any efforts that would mirror Pakistan's own past failures of surrendering territory for the illusion of a localized cease-fire.

It also appeared plausible that - coupled with the president's troop deployment delays - it could be part of an Obama administration effort to give Hamid Karzai a sense of urgency in cleaning up corruption in his government, as the administration has repeatedly demanded both in public and in private. The negative impact of public support erosion would have had to have been either considered a tolerable secondary affect or not considered at all.

If the US embassy is to be taken at its word, this leaves the inverse as the most plausible: An anti-American source (truly Afghan or otherwise) with the primary aim of eroding Afghan confidence in the idea of sustained American and allied forces.

We most likely will never know the true source or his/its ambition. But if the US embassy is not engaged in such talks offering five provinces to Taliban control in exchange for anything, then this is a good thing. Because such is the definition of insanity: Doing the same thing over again and expecting different results. Pakistan's Miranshah I & II gambits were stupid. Our own would have inarguably met the definition of insane.

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