Following Attacks In Afghanistan, Trump Rejects Idea Of Negotiating With The Taliban

Jan 29, 2018
Originally published on January 29, 2018 10:45 pm
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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Early this morning, there was yet another attack in Kabul, Afghanistan. ISIS claimed responsibility. It's the fourth major attack by militants in just over a week. A horrific bombing over the weekend killed more than a hundred people. The Taliban claimed responsibility for that attack. NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman joins us now here in the studio with more. Hi, Tom.

TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: Hey, Ari.

SHAPIRO: What can you tell us about this morning's attack?

BOWMAN: Well, Ari, the attack was on the Afghan military academy in Kabul, and officials say 11 Afghan troops were killed, another 16 wounded. And I'm told you had five suicide attackers. They had ISIS flags. A couple had suicide vests. And pictures sent to us by an Afghan military source show these flags and also a variety of weapons - AK-47s, rocket-propelled grenades. This attack went on for about a half an hour, and the elite Afghan Commandos were called in to help and basically ended it.

Now, as you said, this is a fourth attack in a little over a week split between ISIS and the Taliban. There was an attack with an ambulance filled with explosives, an attack on a hotel and an attack in the eastern city of Jalalabad at the offices of the group Save the Children. So this is a horrific time obviously in Afghanistan. I was speaking with a friend today in Kabul, and she said everyone is just incredibly angry and also depressed.

SHAPIRO: Help us understand the connection, if there is one, between ISIS and the Taliban responsible for these two attacks. The groups are rivals, but they seem to share the goal of destabilizing the Afghan government.

BOWMAN: They do share that goal, but that's kind of where it ends. Think of this as a gang fight. In some cases, they actually fight each other. The Taliban is saying, this is our country; we don't want you to interfere with us. And - but some of the ISIS fighters were former Taliban fighters who basically switched jerseys, as the American military likes to say. Others are foreign fighters from China and elsewhere. They get more money fighting for ISIS. That's why they switched. But ISIS, you know - they're small in number. They're located along the Pakistan border in the hundreds, not the thousands like the Taliban. So again, the Taliban is much stronger.

SHAPIRO: Let's talk about the U.S. role in all of this because last August, the White House announced that it would increase the military pressure on the Taliban to force them to the negotiating table. But then President Trump spoke this afternoon and said this.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: There's no talking to the Taliban. We don't want to talk to the Taliban. We're going to finish what we have to finish, what nobody else has been able to finish. We're going to be able to do it.

SHAPIRO: So Tom, what is U.S. policy here?

BOWMAN: Well, the president is right that we're not going to be talking with the Taliban. This is going to be an Afghan-led peace effort. But what the Americans are doing is hammering the Taliban much harder. The airstrikes have doubled or tripled over the past year or so against the Taliban. More American troops are heading over. Some will go to the front lines to work with Afghan forces. And what they hope is all this pressure will force the Taliban to the negotiating table. But as we all know, this has been going on now 17 years with no end in sight.

SHAPIRO: And why are we seeing such an increase in the number of attacks just now?

BOWMAN: You know, I think a couple of reasons. Again, the Taliban has been hit hard by those airstrikes and so forth. So a good way for any guerrilla group to hit back is you go after what's called soft targets - schools, hospitals, mosques and the like. And there's another reason I think, too, that the president, President Trump, remember, withheld $2 billion in military aid from Pakistan. And the Taliban enjoy safe havens in Pakistan and sometimes working with Pakistani intelligence. The bottom line is this could be payback.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman. Thanks a lot.

BOWMAN: You're welcome, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.