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The Washington Independent
The Washington Independent

Big T, Little T: McKiernan on the Karzai-Taliban Peace Talks

When last I heard from Gen. David McKiernan, commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, it was early October and he was only grudgingly in favor of supporting

Henry Hamer
Last updated: Jul 31, 2020 | Nov 19, 2008

When last I heard from Gen. David McKiernan, commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, it was early October and he was only grudgingly in favor of supporting Hamid Karzai’s then-fledging outreach to the Taliban. (It was literally the last question McKiernan took as he was leaving his Newseum press conference.) But Nathan Hodge at Danger Room has more on McKiernan, who spoke last night at an Atlantic Council forum.

Judging from Hodge’s piece, McKiernan sounded many of the same themes he did at the Newseum –

Ultimately this will be a political solution, ultimately people will decide to stop fighting and come together for a better future. So I think the idea of reconciliation — or whatever term we want to use, that’s a very Western term, not an Afghan term — the idea of reconciliation, the idea of fighters putting down their weapons and agreeing to support a legitimate constitution of Afghanistan I think is a very powerful weapon and something that ought to be pursued.

– but he added something else that sounds like a useful concept for disaggregating the Afghan insurgency:

I like to refer to the Taliban as Taliban with a small ‘t’ — those who pick up weapons and fight for the Taliban because they are either unemployed, they are fighting for intra-tribal reasons, they are fighting because their family is intimidated, they are fighting for reasons of power, a variety of reasons — and to the Taliban with a capital ‘t,’ those who perhaps fight for ideological reasons.

Prudently, McKiernan didn’t guarantee that this difference could be exploited, at least judging from Hodge’s reporting. But it does offer, at the least, an intellectual framework for strategizing how to exploit the fissure.

Henry Hamer | I'm currently working for Google's Chrome team in Munich, Germany, as a developer advocate. I was a member of the team responsible for the online presence of Sueddeutsche.de, one of Germany's largest daily newspapers, from January 2010 to November 2011. I used to work for Yahoo! on their similarly massive European news pages before joining Sueddeutsche. I've concentrated my efforts on the internet, which has turned out to be a fantastic decision.


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