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The Taliban Think They Have Already Won, Peace Deal or Not

KABUL, Afghanistan — The Taliban’s swagger is unmistakable. From the recent bellicose speech of their deputy leader, boasting of “conquests,” to sneering references to the “foreign masters” of the “illegitimate” Kabul government, to the Taliban’s own website tally of “puppets” killed — Afghan soldiers — they are promoting a bold message:

We have already won the war.

And that belief, grounded in military and political reality, is shaping Afghanistan’s volatile present. On the eve of talks in Turkey next month over the country’s future, it is the elephant in the room: the half-acknowledged truth that the Taliban have the upper hand and are thus showing little outward interest in compromise, or of going along with the dominant American idea, power-sharing.

While the Taliban’s current rhetoric is also propaganda, the grim sense of Taliban supremacy is dictating the response of a desperate Afghan government and influencing Afghanistan’s anxious foreign interlocutors. It contributes to the abandonment of dozens of checkpoints and falling morale among the Afghan security forces, already hammered by a “not sustainable” casualty rate of perhaps 3,000 a month, a senior Western diplomat in Kabul said.

The group doesn’t hide its pride at having compelled its principal adversary for 20 years, the United States to negotiate with the Taliban and, last year, to sign an agreement to completely withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan by May 1, 2021. In exchange, the Taliban agreed to stop attacking foreign forces and to sever ties with international terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda.

Zalmay Khalilzad, the American peace envoy — would merely be used by the Taliban as a “Trojan horse” for the seizure of power.

recent paper — though, he notes, this may be driven more by political imperative than a softening of ideology.

Elsewhere, the Taliban’s increasingly confident messaging has penetrated deep into its rank-and-file, in large part because events have borne it out.

People said that it is not possible to fire on U.S. forces,” said Muslim Mohabat, a former Taliban fighter from Watapor District in Kunar Province. “They would say the barrel of the rifle would bend if you open fire on them, but we attacked them, and nothing happened.”

“Then we kept attacking them and forced them to leave the valley,” said Mr. Mohabat, who fought in some of the most violent battles of the war with the United States.

In the insurgents’ view, their advances will inexorably lead to the end of the Kabul government.

“On the battlefield there is a sense that, ‘We’re stronger than ever,’’’ said Ashley Jackson, a Taliban expert at the Overseas Development Institute. “Power-sharing and democracy, these are anathema to their political culture.”

Fahim Abed, Fatima Faizi and Thomas Gibbons-Neff contributed reporting.

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The Times Is Adding Disclosures About David Brooks’s Outside Work to His Columns

The New York Times said Saturday that it was adding disclosures to past articles by the opinion columnist David Brooks that mention the Weave Project, a community-building program that he founded, and the project’s donors, including the social media company Facebook.

The Times also said that Mr. Brooks had resigned from a paid position at the Aspen Institute, a think tank where the Weave Project is one of dozens of programs and initiatives. Mr. Brooks will continue to be involved with the Weave Project only on a volunteer basis, and will need to disclose the relationship should he write about the project in the future.

The moves came after reports in BuzzFeed News about Facebook’s donation that raised questions about whether Mr. Brooks should have informed readers of the nature of his involvement with the Weave Project.

Mr. Brooks had received approval to take the paid position at Aspen in 2018, according to Eileen Murphy, a Times spokeswoman, but the current editors of the opinion section did not know about the arrangement. Upon learning of it, Ms. Murphy said, they “concluded that holding a paid position” for the Weave Project “presents a conflict of interest for David in writing about the work of the project, its donors or the broader issues it focuses on.

James Bennet, then the Opinion editor, left the paper after an internal outcry over a polarizing Op-Ed by Senator Tom Cotton that argued for a military response to civic unrest. This year, Kathleen Kingsbury was named the editor of The Times’s Opinion section, which is run separately from the newsroom.

On Wednesday, BuzzFeed reported that Mr. Brooks had been drawing a salary from the Aspen Institute for his work on the Weave Project, which he did not disclose in several columns he wrote about Weave, and that in December 2018 Facebook earmarked a $250,000 donation to Aspen for the Weave Project to do research. BuzzFeed News also reported last month that Mr. Brooks offered qualified praise for Facebook’s Groups feature in a post on Facebook’s corporate website.

Mr. Brooks has not been involved in the Weave Project’s day-to-day management for the last year, since the project hired a new executive director and Mr. Brooks became chair, according to a statement from the Aspen Institute. Mr. Brooks, who joined The Times in 2003, founded the Weave Project in 2018.

Ms. Murphy, The Times’s spokeswoman, said that Mr. Brooks had not been paid by Facebook and “was not involved in soliciting funding from Facebook for Aspen or Weave.”

Mr. Brooks did not reply to a request for comment. In a regular appearance on Friday night on “PBS NewsHour,” he defended himself, saying that the situation “hasn’t affected my journalism.” Mr. Brooks added that “everything is public.” But, according to BuzzFeed, Aspen had not disclosed some of the donors to the Weave Project, including Facebook, until BuzzFeed reporters began asking for them this year.

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