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Talks Resume On A Political Settlement Between The Taliban And Afghan Government

NOEL KING, HOST:

What can stop the Taliban from continuing their tear through Afghanistan? The U.S. envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, is going to Doha to try and work out a political settlement between the Taliban and the Afghan government. Here's NPR's Jackie Northam.

JACKIE NORTHAM, BYLINE: There was little doubt that when the U.S. military began its withdrawal in Afghanistan, that the Taliban would try and make gains across the country.

BENJAMIN FRIEDMAN: The swiftness of the gains that we've seen by the Taliban are surprising.

NORTHAM: Benjamin Friedman is policy director at Defense Priorities, a Washington think tank.

FRIEDMAN: But the fact that the Afghan Security Forces just aren't very good shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone.

NORTHAM: Friedman says the U.S. spent nearly two decades and billions of dollars trying to build up the Afghan Security Forces. Senior U.S. military officials regularly praised the training effort and predicted the Afghan Forces were capable of keeping militants at bay. Friedman says they were wrong.

FRIEDMAN: It's a kind of inevitable tragedy. And so I think if the United States had left in 10 years, if it had left 10 years ago, I think the results would have been pretty much the same. So the question has long been - how long do you want to prop up something that can't stand up on its own?

NORTHAM: The violence is not likely to deter President Biden's determination to end U.S. involvement there. The administration is putting its chips on trying to get a peace deal between the Afghan government and the Taliban. But Weeda Mehran at the University of Exeter says there was an expectation the Biden administration would work closer with all the parties. But that hasn't happened.

WEEDA MEHRAN: The U.S. strategy has been pretty hands-off, and the Biden administration hasn't been living up to expectations in Afghanistan to handle the peace process in a more manageable way, that it would not lead to so much bloodshed in Afghanistan.

NORTHAM: Part of the problem is that the Taliban are not seriously engaged in negotiations, says Brian Katulis, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress.

BRIAN KATULIS: I think what the Taliban had as its plan here was to just get as many gains on the ground. And then they've repeatedly said they'll negotiate and be at the table, but they're just simply trying to strengthen their hand.

NORTHAM: Katulis says diplomats from the U.S., the Afghan government, regional countries and Russia will meet to discuss the peace deal in Doha today. He says some members of the Taliban will likely show up, but he doesn't expect any breakthroughs.

KATULIS: The challenge with these meetings is that if what's discussed is so disconnected from dynamics on the ground, then it ends up just being empty talk. So the challenge here is that the ideal situation is to have international diplomacy backed by some sort of security support.

NORTHAM: And, Katulis says, given that the U.S. and NATO are withdrawing security support from the Afghan government, it'll be more difficult to get a political solution.

Jackie Northam, NPR News, Washington.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE AMERICAN DOLLAR'S "UNDER A WARM RAIN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.