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American exceptionalism: Does it include talking to terror groups?

06 Sep 2019 TRT World

While the US government's ‘war on terror’ ripped several countries apart, Washington has made exceptions to several violent groups, which includes the Taliban, the YPG and others.

The US rapprochement with the Taliban comes after the global power fought the Afghan militant group for 18 years from 2001, with many of its officials viewing it as a terrorist group. 

In the spring of 2019, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo did not shy away from describing the representatives of the Taliban who engaged in peace talks with the US administration as terrorists.

“I have a team on the ground right now trying to negotiate with the Taliban terrorists in Afghanistan,” said Pompeo, in Des Moines, Iowa, in March this year.  

Although the US government has not declared the Taliban as a terrorist group, many of the country's officials serving in top diplomatic posts have publicly denounced it and perceived it as one. 

Despite being out of step with the official US position on terrorist groups, top officials like Pompeo have clearly outlined that the American state could engage with terrorists through diplomatic means. 

Even the former US president George W. Bush did not believe in talking to the Taliban. 

“You’ve got to be strong, not weak. The only way to deal with these people is to bring them to justice. You can’t talk to them. You can’t negotiate with them,” Bush said in 2003, as he announced America's highly controversial  ‘war on terror’. 

But a decade and a half later, the US government seem to have decided to let bygones be bygones as it sat with the Taliban for talks in March and concluded them recently in Qatar. 

The engagement between the two sides was both striking and historic since the US despised the Taliban for giving sanctuary to Al Qaeda and its founding leader Osama Bin Laden, who claimed responsibility for the September 11 attacks on the US.  

The US-led Taliban talks took place without the elected-Afghan government, which Washington has backed and nurtured ever since its troops invaded the country in 2001. As a result, the Afghan government feels left out and it recently had a heated exchange with American envoy to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad. 

Working with the YPG 

Similar contradictions persist in America's role in northern Syria. On the one hand, the US considers the PKK a terrorist organisation and on the other hand it supports its Syrian affiliates SDF and YPG in the war against Daesh. 

Since the PKK is recognised as a terrorist organisation by Ankara, NATO and the EU as well, Washington's decision to side with the SDF and YPG became one of the root causes of Ankara's growing estrangement with the US. 

Ankara  repeatedly reminded the US to withdraw support from the YPG/SDF formations in northern Syria and stay committed to its NATO ally but Washington did not pay heed.

Washington’s dubious role in working with notorious armed groups does not end at the Taliban and the YPG. It has once again sidestepped its ally Saudi-led Gulf coalition and started negotiations with the Houthi rebels in Yemen. The four-year long bloody war against Iran-backed Houthis has killed more than 90,000 people, bringing the country to the brink of famine.

While Washington confirmed that it's ready to talk to the Houthis, it remains to be seen whether any party to the war will be held accountable for one of the world’s worst humanitarian disasters, which, according to the UN, has left 24 million people, 80 percent of the country's population, in desperate need of "assistance and protection”.  

Beyond the Middle East and Central Asia, where political chaos dominates most of the countries, the US has worked with armed groups in Latin America that Washington itself has recognised as terrorist groups.

Take Colombia, Washington became a mediating force between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the Colombian government, even though both Bogota and Washington denounced the former as a terrorist organisation.

The post-World War II history of the US has many instances where Washington has engaged  with violent armed groups.

During the Cold War, the US had supported Nicaragua’s anti-communist Contras, which reportedly committed grave human rights abuse, the most distinct feature of today's terrorist organisations. The Contras have been accused of killing civilians, vandalising and destroying public property, while the US continued backing the armed group and even playing a dirty role in what later became known as the Iran-Contra scandal.  

Source: TRT World

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