Afghanistan's ruling Taliban said tonight that they were ready to negotiate with Washington about turning over Osama bin Laden to a third country, apparently in an effort to avert a military attack by the United States and its allies. President Bush has vowed repeatedly not to negotiate with the Taliban for the surrender of Mr. bin Laden.
The mission that took the lives of 2,356 U.S. service members was punctuated with a ceremony with military officials in Kabul and a statement from President Obama lauding the efforts of those involved.
"On this day we give thanks to our troops and intelligence personnel who have been relentless against the terrorists responsible for 9/11 — devastating the core al Qaeda leadership, delivering justice to Osama bin Laden, disrupting terrorist plots and saving countless American lives. We are safer, and our nation is more secure, because of their service," Obama said in the written statement.
Up to 10,800 U.S. troops will remain in Afghanistan in 2015 and the mission will be renamed "Operation Freedom's Sentinel." Military officials say that will be a narrowly defined two-prong mission: advising the Afghan army and continuing to mount counterterrorism operations against the Taliban and other insurgents who may pose a threat to the U.S. or Afghan governments.
“In the wake of the Taliban’s defeat in 2001, Afghanistan possessed no standing, professional security forces,” Army General John Campbell, chief of the International Security Assistance Force, said. “Over the course of a decade, our Afghan partners and we have built a highly capable Afghan army and police force of over 350,000 personnel.”
And Bill Roggio, editor of the Long War Journal, argues that the fall of the city speaks to a more robust failure of the Obama administration's strategy in Afghanistan, which has allowed the war to drag on—"token" draw downs aside—with nearly no progress towards a negotiated settlement, despite nearly 14 years of continuous fighting.
"The fall of Kunduz," wrote Roggio on Monday, "would invalidate the entire U.S. 'surge' strategy from 2009 to 2012. The U.S. military focused its efforts on the southern Afghan provinces of Helmand and Kandahar, claiming that these provinces were the key to breaking the Taliban. Little attention was given to other areas of Afghanistan, including the northern provinces, where the Taliban have expended considerable effort in fighting the military and government. Today, the Taliban are gaining ground in northern, central, eastern and southern Afghanistan, with dozens of districts falling under Taliban control over the past year."
Regarding additional updates on the fighting on Tuesday, Al Jazeera correspondent Qais Azimy, reporting from Baghlan, just south of Kunduz, said government troops attempted to reenter the city but were turned back due to intense fighting.
The fall of Kunduz, reported Azimy, "sends a message to the international community and Kabul, that the Taliban fighters are now capable of taking control of a provincial capital after 14 years."