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Former U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Analyses The Taliban's Advancements


The Taliban are moving astoundingly fast through Afghanistan. Today they captured two cities - the country's second and third largest, Kandahar and Herat. And in the last few hours alone, they overran at least one provincial capital. The United States is supposed to be finishing up a withdrawal but is instead sending 3,000 troops in. Their mission is to get Americans, including the 1,400 Americans stationed at the embassy, out.

Ronald Neumann is with us now. He served as the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan. And he joins us via Skype. Good morning, sir.

RONALD NEUMANN: Good morning. Thank you for having me.

KING: I was reminded this morning that your father also served as ambassador to Afghanistan many years ago. And I wonder what is going through your head as you watch this developing by the hour.

NEUMANN: Oh, well, it's very sad. You know, I first went to Afghanistan in 1967. So I was able to travel all over the country as a young man by jeep and horse and even yak. So I've seen a great deal of the country. Then I was back as ambassador. Then I've returned frequently. In fact, I was in Kabul just about a month ago. And I think this is a very sad, a very avoidable situation. But we are where we are.

KING: Avoidable how?

NEUMANN: Well, I think the decision to pull out the troops was a bad decision, that we could have stabilized or held the situation stable with the same force that we now find necessary to put back in temporarily under adverse conditions. But, you know, that's - I think reflecting on the past is a bad use of time when we have so many pressing issues in front of us.

KING: All right. Let's talk about what's in front of us. So we have Zalmay Khalilzad, the chief American envoy, in talks with the Taliban right now. Do you see any window for successful peace negotiations? What do you think needs to happen here?

NEUMANN: Absolutely not - not in the short term.


NEUMANN: Ambassador Khalilzad's process is absolutely busted. The peace - the agreement was the peace - that he negotiated - we - it helped us to keep the Afghans on the defensive for over a year, giving the Taliban the strategic initiative. We pressed the Afghan government for the release of 5,000 prisoners, some of whom are back on the battlefield. One of them is apparently leading the now-successful attack of Kandahar. It has not brought negotiations. It has not brought peace. And it's not going to anytime soon.

KING: So what will?

NEUMANN: Well, first of all, there is a military solution. The Taliban may win the war. That's a deplorable one. But it's possible. Secondly, the Taliban may get to the point where they have almost all the country. And then they will be happy to negotiate a surrender of the Afghan government, which is still losing the war by negotiations. It's not what I would call a negotiated peace. But that's not happening yet.

The United States is now in a kind of panic - almost panic mode, or it acts like it, trying to get - protect our own people and get out the so-called SIV, the special immigrants. I think we have a much larger moral debt. We have thousands, probably hundreds of thousands of Afghans who believed us not only when we said we would stick with them but when we talk about democracy and about women's rights and justice. And you have a whole generation of young people that has bought into our values, that has become educated - judges, television producers. These people have been steadily being assassinated for the last year. They're in enormous threat - danger now. I think we have a moral responsibility to get these people out.

And I'm afraid that as we avoid that and leave them in harm's way, we are really chalking up an enormous black mark for ourselves, for our country, for the future. You know, we have not had a problem like this since Rwanda. We didn't manage to get ourselves engaged fast enough there and now have a very good chance that we will not act again.

KING: Are there one or two things you could imagine concretely the U.S. doing that might help? Like, I've seen threatening to cut American aid to Afghanistan, for example. Is there anything in your mind that might work, other than a military solution?

NEUMANN: I think right now we have to say to the Taliban, you are not allowed to take Kabul. We will use our troops and our Air Force to prevent that. That would at least allow as much time as it takes to get everybody out.

KING: OK. Ronald Neumann is the former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan. Thank you, sir.

NEUMANN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.