The long war in Afghanistan may finally be getting closer to a conclusion or, more likely, a pause. The Pentagon is considering a plan which would reduce troop levels to around 8K from the current 14K. It’s a plan The Washington Post took a questioning view towards because of the moving parts.
The proposal is likely to be viewed skeptically by some U.S. and Afghan officials who question the Taliban’s honesty and wonder how the United States can verify whether Taliban leaders are following through. But if approved, it would be one of the most significant steps toward ending the war, a goal that increasingly has bipartisan support.
“I would say that they are 80 or 90 percent of the way there,” said one official, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss details of the emerging deal. “But there is still a long way to go on that last 10 or 20 percent.”
A Taliban spokesman, Zabiullah Mujahid, declined to comment about the likelihood of an initial agreement. In a brief telephone interview Thursday, he said he did not know when talks would resume.
“We are hopeful,” he said. “Things look promising that there will be a breakthrough. We hope there won’t be any obstacle, but it also depends on the seriousness of the Americans.”
WaPost also reported the deal could be part of a much grander peace deal in Afghanistan, so long as the current government and the Taliban were able to get along. That agreement would probably take a bit longer to reach given after at least ten Afghan police officers were killed in the central Day Kundi province today. Via Associated Press:
The Taliban now effectively control half the country. The insurgents have been meeting with US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad since late last year for talks on finding a peaceful resolution to the nearly 18-year war.
The Taliban refuse to negotiate directly with the Kabul government, considering it a US puppet.
Reaching peace in Afghanistan is obviously not something which is going to happen overnight. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad declined to comment on the WaPost report but did release a short statement this morning.
In his meetings with Prime Minister Imran Khan, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, and Chief of Army Staff General Javed Bajwa, Ambassador Khalilzad outlined the positive momentum in the Afghan peace process and next steps. They also discussed the role Pakistan has played in support of the process and additional positive steps Pakistan can take.
As Ambassador Khalilzad discussed in Afghanistan and Pakistan, consolidating peace will require reliable assurances from Afghanistan and Pakistan that neither side’s territory is used to threaten the other’s. Such assurances on top of an intra-Afghan comprehensive peace agreement will allow for increased regional economic integration, connectivity, and development.
President Donald Trump deserves plenty of praise for bringing Khalilzad back into a role in the Afghan peace process. Khalilzad is well known in Middle East politics due to his work in Afghanistan and Iraq. The fact he’s gotten the peace process this far, with the 10 to 20% left in negotiations, is quite amazing because there is an entire generation of Americans who know nothing but war in Afghanistan.
The troop levels are still concerning. Yes, 8K is better than 14K but it’s time to bringing them all home from Afghanistan (and Iraq and Syria). It is possible the total troop withdrawal will occur over a period of several years in hopes of avoiding any sort of civil war between the Taliban and the Afghan government. The only concern would be the next administration – whether it be in 2020 or 2024 – taking more of a hardline stance towards the Taliban and ramping up war efforts in Afghanistan. Especially if it seems like whatever peace deal is agreed to runs into bumps along the road. Perhaps a faster withdrawal – with zero troops presence in Afghanistan – is more preferable. Now if a similar agreement could be reached in Iraq.
This news is good news although it should not be spun to mean we’re all of a sudden leaving Afghanistan. There’s no real agreement just rumor things are moving along. Final judgement will obviously be reached once ink and paper collide and everything ends up being signed. There is also the constitutional hurdle of the Senate approving any sort of treaty. Which would need to happen, regardless of the result.
It’s time to end the war in Afghanistan. Sooner rather than later.