Just how close are we to a deal with the Taliban? Close enough, the Washington Post notes, that the Trump administration has begun to declare victory in preparation for departing the field. Mike Pompeo carefully parsed this victory as pertaining to the “original mission” of the war in Afghanistan in an interview with the Daily Signal:
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the United States has “delivered” on its mission to oust al-Qaeda from Afghanistan and deter terrorist attacks plotted in the country and neighboring Pakistan.
The top diplomat’s upbeat message came ahead of a potential announcement of a peace deal between the United States and Taliban that has been tested by repeated Taliban bombings and is opposed by President Trump’s national security adviser.
In an interview published Wednesday with the Daily Signal, a news outlet affiliated with the conservative Heritage Foundation, Pompeo said American forces engaged in the United States’ longest war have been “successful” in achieving their original mission.
Oddly (nor maybe not so much), the Post doesn’t actually provide a link to the Daily Signal article. Nevertheless, their characterization of Pompeo’s remarks matches that of the Daily Signal’s Nolan Peterson, who took note of the “shifting goal posts” of the Secretary of State:
“If you go back and look at the days following 9/11, the objectives set out were pretty clear: to go defeat al-Qaeda, the group that had launched the attack on the United States of America from Afghanistan. And today, al-Qaeda … doesn’t even amount to a shadow of its former self in Afghanistan,” Pompeo told The Daily Signal in an exclusive interview.
“We have delivered,” the secretary of state added in the telephone interview. …
Despite the shifting goal posts for what victory in Afghanistan looks like, Pompeo said U.S. forces have been “successful” in achieving their original mission.
“There is a real achievement that has taken place, and we have in fact for now almost two decades greatly reduced the risk that an attack on the United States of America would emanate from Afghan soil, or for that matter from Pakistan as well,” Pompeo told The Daily Signal.
Peterson’s not the only one noticing the goalposts moving. The Afghan government has publicly objected to the deal forming between the US and the Taliban, in part because the Afghan government doesn’t have much say in it. However, president Ashraf Ghani also criticizes the proposal because it doesn’t have any enforcement mechanism if the Taliban break their word:
The Afghan government is criticizing parts of a proposed U.S.-Taliban deal to withdraw U.S. and other foreign forces from Afghanistan, saying the accord contains no clear penalties if the insurgency fails to comply.
Zalmay Khalilzad, the chief U.S. negotiator to the Afghan peace process, said this week that he had completed an agreement in principle with the insurgents, more than a year after Washington resumed direct talks with Taliban officials in the Gulf state of Qatar. Mr. Khalilzad told a local television station on Monday that the deal awaited only President Trump’s approval.
That would explain why Pompeo’s on a PR campaign to declare victory on the “original mission.” The mission quickly evolved into a project to restore human rights and democracy in Afghanistan, however, and the US and NATO have spent almost two decades attempting to shore up Kabul’s recognized government as the sole legitimate power in the country. At some point, that government has to stand on its own, but the terms of the peace deal appear to divide that legitimacy with the Taliban’s claim of an “emirate” — apparently with the US’ blessing:
“It is not clear what happens if and when the Taliban fail to comply with the commitments they’re making to the U.S.,” a senior official said. “There’s no guarantee of any action.”
The government also complained about the U.S. allowing the Taliban to sign the accord as “the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.” Whether to call the country an emirate or—as the government and the international community officially refer to it—the “Islamic Republic of Afghanistan” is an issue to be discussed in Norway.
By using it in the Doha accord, the U.S. is “giving the Taliban a legitimacy, almost puts them in a position of being a government,” the official said. “The U.S. never called them that. We never call them that—we called them terrorists. This is the first time this has happened.”
Speaking of which … here’s the “emirate” in action:
An American is among two NATO service members killed in the latest Taliban attack in the capital of Afghanistan. The car bomb in Kabul yesterday killed 12 people and wounded 42 others. @charliecbs is in Afghanistan with more: pic.twitter.com/d13hqLVgdj
— CBS This Morning (@CBSThisMorning) September 6, 2019
While it’s getting more difficult to explain what our goals are in Afghanistan, this doesn’t look like “success” or victory. It looks like we’re bugging out, and we’re betraying the people we asked to help pull Afghanistan back into modernity by leaving them at the mercy of the thugs. Expect that lesson to be long remembered by more strategic potential allies than the Afghans.