In Kandahar province, a hub of Taliban activity that has been a focus of U.S. military operations, the governor is taking the extraordinary step of urging insurgent leaders to delay their surrender.
“We are not prepared the way we should be,” said the governor, Tooryalai Wesa, who has been approached in recent weeks by emissaries for mid-level Taliban leaders. “We are telling them to wait a little bit.”
Although much of the problem stems from political disagreements and bureaucratic delays within the Afghan government, the United States has been unable to provide a stopgap solution because of the way the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is interpreting congressional restrictions on the use of reconstruction funds for Afghanistan.
The Kabul government does not dispute that it has been tardy. “Program execution has been slow as compared to the urgency of the needs of the provinces and communities,” the national peace and reintegration secretariat wrote this month in a review of its efforts.
Senior U.S. military officials and diplomats are concerned that the lack of reintegration programs will undermine efforts to achieve the Obama administration’s goal of an eventual political reconciliation with top rebel leaders that would end the nearly 10-year-long war.
“Bin Laden’s death — and the killing of scores of Taliban commanders over the past year — has opened a window for us,” said a former U.S. official who declined to speak for attribution because he is involved in Afghan reintegration. “But it’s emblematic of how unprepared we are for the endgame,” the official said, referring to the delays.
This past summer, after repeated prodding from U.S. officials, President Hamid Karzai approved a nationwide effort to win over low-level Taliban fighters. The program offers a general amnesty to insurgents deemed by Afghan security services not to have engaged in war crimes or other atrocities. Those who have participated in attacks on Afghan or coalition forces are typically forgiven.
The defecting insurgents are supposed to be placed in safe houses, to protect them from retribution, for 90 days while they undergo screening. During that time, they also are supposed to receive a monthly stipend ranging from $100 to $500, classes to equip them with job skills and basic literacy, and sessions with religious leaders aimed at weaning them from the Taliban’s radical Islamist agenda.
British Maj. Gen. Phillip Jones, the NATO military command’s director for reintegration, said there has been a “significant uptick” in interest among insurgents in laying down their weapons. He said that more than 40 groups of fighters, amounting to a few thousand men, are in negotiations with the Afghan government.