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The Afghanistan Conundrum

Given Afghanistan's complex web of conflicting interests, separate US and Russian efforts to reach an enduring settlement may not succeed. The five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council may need to reach a consensus among themselves and then implement a resolution aimed at stabilizing the country.

CANBERRA – In January 2018, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani publicly admitted that without American support, his government and the Afghan National Army (ANA) could not last very long. That remains the case today: the government is in disarray, and the ANA is barely holding out against the Taliban-led insurgency.

Yet US President Donald Trump understandably wants to disentangle America, if possible through a political settlement, from what has become an unwinnable war. As such, the Taliban and their supporters have no compelling reason to let the Afghan government and the United States off the hook easily. And given the complex web of conflicting interests in Afghanistan, separate US and Russian efforts to reach an enduring settlement may not succeed.

Afghanistan’s problem is not primarily military. Despite the ANA’s heavy losses (more than 45,000 personnel since mid-2014) and increased insecurity in the country, the army has managed to prevent the Taliban from taking over any major city on a lasting basis. US funding of the ANA to the tune of some $4 billion per year, together with allied operational assistance, has been crucial in this regard.

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