Has America’s longest war come to an end? The Associated Press reports that the US and the Taliban have reached a formal truce agreement that will use the seven-day “reduction in violence” framework. The deal includes commitment to an “all-Afghan” peace conference to begin within the next two weeks after the cease-ish fire period:
A senior U.S.official said Friday the United States and the Taliban have reached a truce agreement that will take effect “very soon” and could lead to withdrawals of American troops from Afghanistan.
The official said the agreement for a seven-day “reduction in violence” to be followed by the start of all-Afghan peace talks within 10 days is “very specific” and covers the entire country including Afghan forces.
One indication of how serious this is could be an earlier meeting in Munich:
The developments come as U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Mark Esper met Friday in Munich with Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani. They spoke on the sidelines of an international security forum in Munich.
No official announcement has been made yet, but it’s not really going to be a surprise. The portents have been in the air for months, only getting derailed last fall after the Taliban continued to target American personnel. Esper’s statement yesterday about seven days being “sufficient” for a dial-down in kinetic operations gave a huge hint that this was the front end of an already-constructed larger agreement:
The final details were hammered out in recent days by U.S. special envoy for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad and Taliban representatives in Doha, Qatar. Khalilzad was in Munich and attended Pompeo and Esper’s meeting as did Gen. Scott Miller, the commander of the U.S.-led international force in Afghanistan.
People familiar with the plan’s outlines say it calls for the successful conclusion of the weeklong truce to be followed within 10 days by the start of all-Afghan negotiations to set the road map for the country’s political future.
Thus far, the only reporting on this is coming from the AP. If it’s true, our longest war may be over before spring arrives. We’ll update as more reporting comes in. For now, though, it looks like we might have finally put an end to our Afghan adventure, for better or worse.
Update, 11:49 am ET: Still nothing from other news sources. While we wait for confirmation, consider what this might mean politically at home. If Trump gets his withdrawal from Afghanistan, or at least an end to all combat operations, that’s a major campaign promise fulfilled. The benefit of that will likely cross party lines, too … assuming it doesn’t cause an eruption of terrorist activity. The potential here is not all to the upside.
Update, 11:56: Axios notes the political appeal, at least in the short term:
“President Bush wanted out, President Obama wanted out, President Trump wants out,” says Michael Morell, who held top roles at the CIA under both Bush and Obama. “Nobody can see a path to this ending, and the American people are getting tired of it. What’s held them back is a belief that once we leave, the Taliban’s going to take over … and offer al-Qaeda safe haven again.”
“That is a risk that President Bush wasn’t willing to take, President Obama wasn’t willing to take, and President Trump earlier in his term wasn’t willing to take,” says Morell, who hosts the Intelligence Matters podcast.
What to watch: For now, Trump may be satisfied with a partial deal and a partial troop reduction. Ultimately, he clearly wants out. So do all of the leading 2020 Democrats, and many Americans.
And in the end, we probably could stay there another 50 years and still face the same end game. That’s the problem.
Update, 12:13: Took a while, but ABC News confirms it independently:
But first, the Taliban must follow through on this seven-day reduction in violence. While it’s not a full ceasefire, the senior State Dept. official said it is nationwide, including Afghan government forces.
The agreement is “very specific”– down to roadside bombs, suicide bombs and rocket attacks.
“Should the Talibs implement what they’ve committed to doing, we’ll go forward with the agreement,” the official said.
In other words, don’t pop the champagne just yet.
Update, 12:45: The New York Times has more details about the agreement, including a five-month timetable for a significant US drawdown, but a full withdrawal no sooner than 2023:
The deal would lay out a 135-day timetable for drawing down American troop strength in Afghanistan from about 13,000 to 8,600; United States officials had indicated that they planned to make the reduction with or without an agreement in place. It calls for a complete withdrawal within three to five years.
It also calls for the start of negotiations between the government in Kabul and the Taliban — something the Taliban has long refused — on a long-term power-sharing settlement. Afghan leaders have been frustrated by the United States’ acceding to the Taliban’s demand that negotiations, held over the past year in Doha, Qatar, exclude the government, even as deadly violence continued. …
A weeklong decline in hostilities would be an abrupt shift, coming off one of the most violent years in the long conflict. In 2019, the civilian death rate averaged almost seven per day, the United States dropped more than 7,000 bombs and missiles, and the Taliban and smaller armed insurgent groups carried out about 25,000 attacks.
The Taliban signed off on a three-year withdrawal at minimum? I’d be surprised to see that succeed.