Is Peace Possible in Afghanistan? U.S. Veterans and a Kabul Journalist Weigh in

March 13, 2020Joshua Skovlund

On Feb. 29, 2020, the U.S. and the Taliban signed an agreement to work toward a peaceful resolution in Afghanistan. The agreement laid out terms for the Taliban to reduce its violence within the country as well as a timeline for the U.S. to withdraw its forces. The agreement will be null and void if the Taliban does not uphold their promises. There is not a ceasefire outlined in the agreement, and with attacks resuming after the agreement, many are skeptical. 

Colonel Sonny Leggett, the spokesman for U.S. forces in Afghanistan, said in a series of tweets that the Taliban had conducted 43 attacks against Afghan national forces on March 3, 2020. In response, “The US conducted an airstrike on March 4 against Taliban fighters in Nahr-e Saraj, Helmand, who were actively attacking an #ANDSF [Afghan National Defense and Security Forces] checkpoint. This was a defensive strike to disrupt the attack. This was our 1st strike against the Taliban in 11 days.”

With the Taliban continuing violent attacks after the agreement was signed, it is in question whether a peaceful resolution can be achieved. Coffee or Die spoke with U.S. military veterans, as well as a Kabul journalist, to gain some insight. 

Retired U.S. Army General Joseph Votel. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Army.
Retired U.S. Army General Joseph Votel. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Army.

General Joseph Votel retired after nearly 40 years with the U.S. Army. He has held several notable positions, including serving as the commander of Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), United States Special Operations Command (SOCOM), and, more recently, as the commander of United States Central Command (CENTCOM) from March 2016 to March 2019. 

“After nearly 19 years of combat, I think it is time to fully explore the diplomatic options, and this has been the object of the 2017 Presidential Strategy for Central and South Asia,” Votel said. “It is certainly going to be difficult, but ultimately the problems of Afghanistan will have to be addressed through diplomacy and not just military operations. 

“It will be important that we closely monitor conditions on the ground as we make decisions about our troop levels, and of course we will always need to be mindful that this is an area that is home to a large number of terrorist organizations who harbor desires to attack Americans, our homeland, and that of our close friends and allies.” 

When asked whether peace was attainable in the area, he said, “I think it is attainable. It won’t be easy, and it will require compromise on the part of the principal parties — the government of Afghanistan and the Taliban — and the continued support and pressure of the United States, NATO, and other countries in the region. Having now commenced this process — it will be critical for all parties to remain engaged in the process and see it through to a conclusion.”

Kabul journalist Kamran Mir Hazar. Photo courtesy of Hazar.
Kabul journalist Kamran Mir Hazar. Photo courtesy of Hazar.

Kamran Mir Hazar is from the Hazara province and lived in Kabul, Afghanistan, from 2004 to 2007. In 2007, Hazar was detained twice by the National Directorate of Security (NDS) after he wrote and published several articles criticizing the Afghanistan government. Hazar is the Kabul Press editor and publisher, as well as a poet and activist. 

“Regarding the peace, I don’t think that these kind of agreements bring peace to that country (Afghanistan),” Hazar said. “First of all, these kinds of agreements cannot change the mindset of the Taliban. Just imagine a man, Talib man, that is illiterate, cannot read and write — or if [he] can read and write, for example, he learned that if my uncle has a gun, and with a gun, you can do Jihad.

“So if the U.S. government can change the mindset of those people,” Hazar continued, “it is not the result of one decade or two decades. It’s the result of at least one century. So then you can bring peace with such agreements. 

Retired U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Stephen Crowe. Photo courtesy of Crowe.
Retired U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Stephen Crowe. Photo courtesy of Crowe.

Stephen Crowe, who retired from the U.S. Army as a staff sergeant in 2016, deployed to Afghanistan from July 2015 to November 2015 with the 351st Military Police Company (USAR). He was joint operation center noncommissioned officer in charge (JOC NCOIC) at the detention facility in Parwan (DFIP) during his deployment. 

“While I am always in favor of peace, I am very skeptical of dealing with organizations like the Taliban,” Crowe said. “Historically, any attempt to negotiate has been a stalling tactic designed to prolong a break in fighting, which I believe just gives them time to regroup/refit.” 

When asked about whether peace was attainable, he said, “I do not believe peace is attainable in Afghanistan. I don’t believe the tribal system is designed for peace. Between the general corruption and short-lived alliances, it seems very unlikely that any group can present a stable, long-term governmental body that has a majority of support. If peace were to come, I believe that Afghanis would have to put their loyalty to the country above their loyalty to the tribe.

“I’m not sure any efforts made by the U.S. will have any long-term impact on lasting peace in the region,” Crowe continued. “The average Afghan gets the basic necessities from his tribal leaders; they don’t see the value of a central government.”

Retired U.S. Army Colonel Christopher Vanek. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Army.
Retired U.S. Army Colonel Christopher Vanek. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Army.

Retired Colonel Christopher Vanek’s career as an officer in the U.S. Army spanned 28 years and 7 months. Vanek was the 75th Ranger Regiment commander from 2013 to 2015, and he spent more than 1,500 days in Afghanistan from 2001 to 2015. 

I do think ‘peace’ is attainable,” Vanek said. “But we have two choices in how to achieve it.  First, and the path we have followed for the past 19 years, is to make the cost of continued conflict so enormous for the Taliban that they are forced to either negotiate or capitulate. The second method would be to compromise with the Taliban, and that will require potentially compromising our beliefs, values, and sacrifices. Neither method is anywhere close to easy. 

“If achieving either victory or peace were easy,” he continued, “it would have been accomplished almost two decades ago. We’ve had our nation’s best minds and greatest warriors and civil servants sacrifice everything to win in Afghanistan. But I would argue our enemy is equally if not more committed to winning. Our enemy’s commitment is demonstrated by his willingness to volunteer for a suicide attack in full recognition that his personal sacrifice will only achieve a tactical victory at best. It is exceptionally difficult to defeat that level of commitment. 

“I am hopeful that the government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the people of Afghanistan will rise to the occasion and make the Taliban so despised that they will have no place in the hearts of every Afghan.”

Chief Warrant Officer 2 Grahm Neve. Photo courtesy of Neve.
Chief Warrant Officer 2 Grahm Neve. Photo courtesy of Neve.

Grahm Neve served a total of eight deployments in Afghanistan, with six of them on the ground with 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment. His two most recent deployments were as an Apache helicopter pilot in the air. When Neve left 2/75 to pursue flying, he was a staff sergeant (E6) and is now a chief warrant officer 2 (CW2).

“During my six deployments to Afghanistan, I have walked or flown in damn near every area of that country,” Neve said. “I had a lot of interaction with the locals when I was in Regiment. Once I left to go fly, I didn’t have as much interaction, minus the people we would be training. 

“The vast majority of the people — other than the enemies we are targeting — want a peace deal, so they can somewhat go back to as normal of a life as they can,” he continued. “There has to be something for the Taliban to gain in order for them to agree and actually try to make it stick. That will be the hardest part, is getting that figured out between the Afghanistan government and the Taliban. Until it is, then I don’t think they will ever see a peace deal over there.” 

Neve said he believes that after a withdrawal, the fighting will resume. “I think three months after we leave, it turns right back into the way it always has been and they go back to fighting one another,” he said. “I used to believe in this war, but after 4.5 years deployed, you start to see the cycles and how it all works and start to notice that they will fight until the end of day.”

Joshua Skovlund
Joshua Skovlund

Joshua Skovlund is a former staff writer for Coffee or Die. He covered the 75th anniversary of D-Day in France, multinational military exercises in Germany, and civil unrest during the 2020 riots in Minneapolis. Born and raised in small-town South Dakota, he grew up playing football and soccer before serving as a forward observer in the US Army. After leaving the service, he worked as a personal trainer while earning his paramedic license. After five years as in paramedicine, he transitioned to a career in multimedia journalism. Joshua is married with two children.

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