Over the weekend, President Donald Trump repeated the canard that the Taliban is tired of fighting, and that is what is driving it to the negotiating table. Political, military, and intelligence leaders, as well as analysts and experts on Afghanistan have been claiming the Taliban is exhausted from fighting for at least 15 years. And yet the Taliban fights on while the US is desperate to leave.
Trump made the worn-out claim about the purported exhaustion of the Taliban during an interview with CBS News:
And it’s time. And we’ll see what happens with the Taliban. They want peace. They’re tired. Everybody’s tired. We’d like to have- I don’t like endless wars. This war. What we’re doing is got to stop at some point.
Trump is right about one thing: the US is certainly tired of the fight in Afghanistan. This is why Zalmay Khalilzad has been appointed to negotiate the terms of US withdrawal, and ultimately surrender, with the Taliban. But, as 17 plus years of fighting in Afghanistan has shown us, the Taliban is anything but tired.
Reports of a “tired” Taliban can be traced back to 2004, when the Christian Science Monitor quoted Al-Hajj Mullah Abdul Samad Khaksar, the group’s former interior minister who renounced it.
“Most of the local ordinary Taliban are tired of fighting, they are eager to come back to the country and live here in peace,” Khaksar told CSM.
Yet within two years, the weary Taliban pressed an offensive in the south and east, taking control of large areas of the country that ultimately forced the US military to launch a “surge” of more than 100,000 soliders.
Fast forward to 2011, during the height of the surge. “Both the west and the Taliban are tired now and keen to move toward a resolution,” The Guardian told us. The worn-down Taliban were sure to enter peace talks and settle with the US and Afghan government.
Not so much. By 2013, Russia Today was telling us that the Taliban was “war weary” and was prepared to form a political party (the Taliban has explicitly stated elections are forbidden in Islam). Afghan expert Rashid Waziri said that “The Taliban are tired of war and it will be a step in the right direction if they launch a political movement.”
The Taliban never launched a political movement. Instead, it took advantage of the end of the US surge and the withdrawal of the bulk of US troops to begin retaking control of remote Afghan districts. Today, the US military admits that nearly half of Afghanistan is controlled or contested by the Taliban (FDD’s Long War Journal maintain that is the best case scenario, and estimates that more than 60 percent of Afghanistan’s districts are contested or controlled by the Taliban.)
Two years later, General John Campbell, who then led US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, talked about a sapped Taliban in May 2015, which was ready for peace. From Sputnik News:
The Taliban are tired from fighting for 14 years and want to get on with their lives, Campbell argued, so they might be ready and willing to engage in peace talks with the Afghan government.
That same exhausted Taliban overran Kunduz City several months later, and held it for more than two weeks before US troops were forced to intervene.
One year later, a Taliban commander who admitted that he likely killed US troops, told The Washington Post that the Taliban is tired and its fighters would lay down its arms if only they could get jobs.
“The Taliban are tired and will join if the government pays them, and if the government provides jobs for them,” Hanafi said.
The US attempted to pay thousands of Taliban fighters to quit the fight. The effort failed. In late 2016, the beaten Taliban again overran Kunduz City.
There are numerous other examples of reports of a tired and broken Taliban that is desperate to cut a deal to end the fighting and participate in an Afghan government. Yet this supposedly worn out and ground down Taliban continues to fight on and gain ground, while the US announces that it will withdraw from Afghanistan before peace talks even begin, thus granting the Taliban a major victory. If this is what a tired Taliban looks like, a well rested Taliban would be a handful.
Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.