Talk about reducing expectations. The US and Taliban have agreed to a proposal aimed at accelerating a peace agreement to end our longest war ever. It’s not a permanent cease fire; it’s not even a temporary cease fire. Instead, it’s a “reduction in violence,” and it’s only going to last seven days.
“It is our view,” Defense Secretary Mark Esper said in his announcement, “that seven days for now is sufficient.” Sufficient for what?
The U.S. and Taliban "have negotiated a proposal" for a seven-day reduction in violence, Defense Secretary Mark Esper says
— POLITICO (@politico) February 13, 2020
“The U.S. and the Taliban have negotiated a proposal for a seven-day reduction in violence” Esper said in a brief statement and news conference at NATO headquarters in Brussels. The deal appears to fall short of a full ceasefire.
“I think peace deserves a chance,” he said. “The best, if not only, solution in Afghanistan is a political agreement.”
Esper declined to give details on when and how the reduction in violence would begin. He said the agreement was only a proposal at this stage and would require consultations with the Kabul government and allies.
However, U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, the chief negotiator with the Taliban, has said that a U.S. deal on a ceasefire could set the stage for a long-term peace agreement between the insurgent group and the Afghan government to end the war that has cost the lives of more than 2,400 U.S. troops since 2001.
So far, not only has Esper not given details on when and how the proposal works, but how much of a reduction it requires. No attacks on US personnel should be a given, but is that the only such reduction required? Is there a limit on other offensive operations? If so, how much, and if not, why not?
Mike Pompeo tried to backfill on this question, but didn’t get a whole lot more specific on metrics:
The United States has had “a pretty important breakthrough” in peace talks with the Taliban over the past couple of days, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Thursday, but he cautioned that Washington wants to see a significant fall in violence in Afghanistan before starting wider discussions.
Sounds great … depending on what “significant” means in this context. The meaning of it has to be rather nuanced anyway, since seven days in the context of an 18-year war is hardly a significant amount of time. Let alone “sufficient,” even as a confidence interval for an eventual cease fire and peace accord.
Speaking of timing, there’s another interesting aspect to this, too. Winters are brutal in Afghanistan, which means both sides usually use this time to hunker down, plot out their spring offensives, and calculate countering defense strategies. “Reduction in violence” sounds suspiciously like some sort of an excuse to claim victory when kinetic operations are lower-pitched anyway, and then bug out before hunting season begins in earnest.
Still, that’s eventually what we’ll end up doing regardless of whether we get a “sufficient” or “significant” drop in kinetic operations out of the Taliban. It’s become clear to everyone that we want out of Afghanistan regardless of what that means to our position and credibility there, thanks to the fact that we’re never going to”win” there becoming just as clear. Donald Trump has never made a pretense of wanting to fight this war; he has wanted to get out since he first started campaigning for president, and he only stuck around this long to give the military a chance to improve our bargaining position for an exit. With an election coming up soon, Trump wants to fulfill his Afghan-exit promise just as badly as Barack Obama wanted to fulfill his Iraq-exit promise in 2011.
For those purposes, a week-long “reduction in violence” is more than sufficient, as long as the Taliban doesn’t create any more American casualties. The writing is on the wall for Kabul, unless they can gather the strength to force the Taliban on their own to give peace a chance.