The predominant media narrative was pretty straightforward:  U.S. soldier kills 16 Afghan civilians, the Taliban respond by suspending participation in U.S.-sponsored Afghan peace talks. Game over.

Or maybe not. As Missy Ryan reports today, efforts by the Obama administration to cajole the Taliban into peace talks with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, while not exactly roaring forward, are not dead. U.S. officials see the Taliban move as tactical, not terminal, and more of a reflection of internal divisions within the movement than anything else. “Deep breaths, and not hyperventilation, are required here,” said one of the many U.S. officials Reuters interviewed.

The Taliban also appear put out that President Obama has not yet transferred senior Taliban prisoners from Guantanamo Bay to kick-start the talks. That’s a problem for Obama, who faces intense resistance to sending the Talibs to detention in Qatar. That Qatar has yet to agree to U.S. demands they be held under strict conditions further complicates matters.

Still, the massacre of the Afghan innocents may not have been the game-changer it was assumed to be. Karzai immediately demanded U.S. troops leave Afghan villages, but has not followed through. Further proof that things in Afghanistan are rarely what they seem, and that it pays to watch what the players do, not what they say.

Warren Strobel

Editor in Charge, U.S. Foreign Policy & National Security

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US see Taliban talks suspension as tactical move

The Taliban’s suspension of preliminary peace talks is a tactical move reflecting internal tensions, U.S. officials believe, rather than a definitive halt to discussions the White House hopes will bring a peaceful end to the war in Afghanistan. U.S. officials had been bracing themselves for backlash from the militant group following a string of public setbacks that have scandalized and angered Afghans, notably U.S. soldiers’ burning of copies of the Koran and the killing of 16 Afghan villagers for which a U.S. soldier is in custody.