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U.S. military and civilian leaders say they have all but abandoned hope of striking a peace deal with the Taliban in Afghanistan.
The leaders say they will work to lay the groundwork for Afghans to work out a peace agreement among themselves after the bulk of coalition forces leave in 2014, The New York Times reported Monday.
"I don't see it [a peace deal] happening in the next couple years," a senior coalition officer said. "It's a very resilient enemy, and I'm not going to tell you it's not. It will be a constant battle, and it will be for years."
The inability to negotiate meaningfully with Taliban leaders accentuates how delicate the gains claimed during the 2009 surge of U.S. troops really are, observers said. While the additional troops re-captured territory held by the Taliban, they failed to deliver a knock-out blow.
Critics of the Obama administration say the United States weakened its position by agreeing to the 2014 deadline, the Times said. The Obama administration has called the deadline critical in persuading the Afghan government and military to take full responsibility for the country, as well as politically necessary for war-weary Americans at home.
U.S. officials said they hope Taliban fighters find the Afghan army a more difficult foe than expected and be compelled to come to the negotiating table, the Times said.
While conceding a peace deal is unlikely, the United States hasn't given up on talks, agreeing last month to establish a committee with Pakistan to evaluate potential new Taliban discussion leaders, the Times reported. Also, the Obama administration is considering whether to pursue again a proposed prisoner swap with the insurgents that would reopen discussions that fell apart in March.
A third of all American forces already have left Afghanistan, and most of the 68,000 remaining may leave next year, officials told the Times. The goal is having a residual force of trainers and special operations troops in-country by the end of 2014.