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Local cease-fire deals could hasten Afghan peace

Aug. 8, 2013 - 07:03PM   |  
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As U.S. forces withdraw from Afghanistan, some local leaders are making cease-fire and other agreements with local insurgent groups, a trend that carries risks but could also help hasten peace, military officials say.

To date, the agreements have been made without relinquishing Afghan military authority or allowing the Taliban to expand influence, coalition officials say.

“We have not seen a geographic expansion of insurgent influence as a result of local agreements, nor have we identified areas in which the Taliban has increased its capabilities or established local safe havens as a result of such agreements,” said Matt Sherman, a coalition political adviser.

Still, coalition commanders are watching the agreements carefully, according to a Pentagon report on Afghanistan.

“It’s important to look at (the agreements) on a case-by-case basis,” Sherman said in an interview from Afghanistan.

The agreements, some of which are little more than temporary cease-fires, carry the potential to be damaging if Afghan commanders “relinquish core responsibilities and local security standards when they enter into an accommodation with insurgents,” the report says.

Agreements should not be seen by Afghan commanders as an excuse to reduce patrols or remain in garrison, giving the Taliban freedom to roam, said Said Jawad, a former Afghanistan ambassador to the United States.

Many insurgent groups that fight under the banner of Taliban are little more than tribes fighting over local grievances and are distinct from hardcore Taliban militants with a broader agenda.

The coalition would regard any accommodation with al-Qaeda or its affiliates as a “red line,” Sherman said.

The report said cease-fire agreements have increased but remain “rare.” However, the cease-fire agreements will likely increase as the number of coalition forces declines and local Afghans seek out their own resolutions.

“In many ways, this is about us adapting to a new security environment,” Sherman said.

The agreements remain limited to a scattering of villages and haven’t reached anything approaching critical mass.

Such discussions among warring groups are embedded in Afghan culture, where elders and tribal leaders have historically brokered cease-fires and alliances even in the middle of war.

And the process of seeking out some reconciliation at the village level is a normal part of an insurgency winding down, Jawad said.

“We said all along it has to be an Afghanistan solution,” said Col. Chris Garver, a military spokesman in Afghanistan. “This is Afghans coming to a solution.”

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