Update 10:22 a.m.: At least one "senior Afghan Taliban commander" is denying that the militant group is in talks with the U.S., according to an update from Reuters on its report this morning. "How can talks be at a critical point when they have not even started," the commander told Reuters in response to its story.
Reuters report that the U.S. government has been in talks with the Taliban to broker a peace with the militant Islamists the U.S. invaded Afghanistan back in 2002 to overthrow in the first place. For the past 10 months, in hush-hush meeting in Germany and Doha, the U.S. has been looking to "transfer of an unspecified number of Taliban prisoners from the Guantanamo Bay military prison into Afghan government custody." This likely won't turn out to be President Obama's way of emptying Gitmo so it can finally be closed -- the prison has some 171 inmates, according to a May 2011 count, only about 20 of whom are Taliban members, according to Reuters. But State Department officials Reuters spoke to hope that the prisoner exchange would be a tit-for-tat "confidence-building measure" to reintegrate the Taliban into the Afghan government -- so it stops fighting to take it down.
The stakes in the diplomatic effort could not be higher.
Failure would likely condemn Afghanistan to continued conflict, perhaps even civil war, after NATO troops finish turning security over to Karzai's weak government by the end of 2014.
Success would mean a political end to the war and the possibility that parts of the Taliban - some hardliners seem likely to reject the talks - could be reconciled.
In exchange, the U.S. would be looking for the "denunciation of international terrorism and a public willingness to enter formal political talks with the government headed by Afghan President Hamid Karzai." But if today's report turns out to be founded ("Few officials describe themselves as optimists about the peace initiative; at the State Department, formally leading the talks, senior officials see the odds of brokering a successful agreement at only around 30 percent" according to Reuters), what a strange way for the Afghan war to come full circle: the U.S. making amends with the very regime it ostensively went to war to originally ouster. Expect the GOP presidential field not to take that decision from President Obama well.