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Why We Need to Talk with the Taliban

The U.S. and Taliban Need to Re-Engage If Afghanistan Will Have a Long-Lasting Peace

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Why We Need to Talk with the Taliban
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LtCol Dan Schmidt, USMC, talks with village elders outside of Marjah

COMMENTARY | The Taliban are a part of Afghan society, and they need be included as an integral part of post-Karzai Afghanistan. If Afghanistan and the United States do not to find them a role, it would create a permanent fissure that would tear apart a new Afghan government and undo all that America and NATO has accomplished.

The Taliban have proven to be the brothers, sons, and cousins of those Afghan who favor us. They range from conservative Muslims -- whom the people find acceptable -- to extremists -- who are not. But regardless, they are a part of the Afghan social structure and need to be recognized accordingly.

The U.S. Marines recognized this, and in began to act on it in 2009 when they were sent to Helmand Province in force.

After July 2009's Operation Khanjar airdropped 4,000 Marines the length of the Helmand River Valley and drove the Taliban out of the towns and villages, Brig. Gen. Larry Nicholson formulated a strategy of reconciliation that allowed them to peacefully return. There were some very bad guys, Nicholson noted, dubbed "Big T Taliban," and they needed to be dealt with accordingly. But the majority of those fighting the Americans weren't fighting for religion or ideology, he said; they were fighting because there were no jobs and they needed to feed their families.

Nicholson's Civil Affairs Marines jump-started a local jobs program and these "little t Taliban" willingly put down their AKs and returned to a farmer's life; I was present; I saw it happen.

And that's why it's important the United States and Taliban talk in Qatar.

Afghanistan is a conservative Muslim state. The Taliban stopped the Afghan civil war in the 1970s; they fought the Russians in the 1980s. After 40 years of war, the local Afghan citizen craves peace and stability above all; if the government in Kabul is unable to provide basic services while the Taliban can, then the locals understand they need to pay taxes to the Taliban. They see the virulent and crippling corruption in Kabul and contrast it with the simple lives led by the Taliban… and if it were not for the Taliban extremists, the locals would rally to the Taliban without reservation.

Hamid Karzai's term of office expires in 2014, and who will replace him is an open question. But long after the politicians in Kabul come and go, the Taliban's adhering to the tenents of Islam make them a substantial part of the Afghan social tapestry, and it's essential that the U.S. and Taliban begin a substantive discussion about the country's future.

Andrew Lubin is a combat journalist and defense analyst who has had seven lengthy embeds with U.S. Marines in Helmand Province and eastern Afghanistan since 2007.

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