The US Has Negotiated a Deal With Taliban to Go From 13,000 Troops to 8,600 in 4 Months
Signing expected at month-end if a test truce succeeds
This weekend in Germany, everyone expected the United States to announce a preliminary agreement with the Taliban to establish a path toward peace negotiations that could end the war in Afghanistan. But the announcement never came, leaving far more questions than answers.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, his Afghanistan envoy Zalmay Khalilzad and Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper met with scores of lawmakers and foreign officials on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference to discuss the pending agreement. A Taliban official said Monday it could be signed by the end of the month. The delay has prompted Afghan officials and U.S. lawmakers from both parties to wonder whether the deal is sound and whether crucial details will even be made public.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani told a bipartisan delegation of U.S. lawmakers in Munich that the deal has four “secret annexes,” according to four people who were in the room. He also laid out several risks he sees in the deal, including concerns it could elevate the Taliban’s stature and boost other violent Islamist groups around the world. [Ghani doesn’t like the deal and has incentive to try to torpedo it, because the fact Taliban made sure he wasn’t involved in the process of reaching it delegitimizes him.]
“I sit with Ghani and I hear about four addendums that are secret,” Sen. Robert Menendez (N.J.), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told me. “He only spoke to one of them. The one that he spoke to is that the Taliban will disavow al-Qaeda, but they will not do it publicly.”
Time magazine also reported that a draft of the agreement contained four “secret annexes.” They include an agreement that U.S. counterterrorism forces could stay in the country (while the Taliban states publicly they are all leaving), permissions for the CIA to operate in Taliban-held areas, and details of how the Taliban’s promises to reduce violence will be monitored and verified.
Two senior Trump administration officials disputed the Time report, as well as Ghani’s claims about “secret annexes,” as relayed by Menendez. The officials cautioned the deal isn’t final until announced, but said that if the Taliban does agree to break ties with al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups, it will be public and in the text.
“There are no secret side agreements on additional commitments,” a senior administration official told me. “When the agreement is signed, all the major commitments and expectations will be framed out in the actual agreement itself.”
The official acknowledged that some implementation and verification details might not be made public to protect national security procedures and thwart spoiler attempts. But the United States is not hiding anything crucial, the official insisted.
The official confirmed that the basic outline of the agreement is to soon begin a seven- to 10-day period during which the Taliban must produce a drastic reduction of violence.
After that, talks including the Afghan government and the Taliban would commence on a political pact. If the process proceeds to the next phase, the United States would reduce its forces from around 13,000 now to 8,600 troops within 135 days.
Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), leader of the congressional delegation that met with Ghani, told me that any agreement that fails to secure the Taliban’s public commitment to break with al-Qaeda would not be sustainable and not be supported by either party.
“There’s a lot of suspicion in Congress. I’m willing to give it a try,” he said. “At the end of the day, the status quo ain’t going to work. Eighteen years down the road, it’s time to call the question.”
The Afghan government is walking a fine line between supporting the process and making its concerns known. President Trump has made clear his desire to withdraw U.S. troops, and the concern is the Taliban will simply return to violence and supporting terrorism after U.S. troops depart.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) told me that any deal must not be based on trusting the Taliban. But, he said, the deal was necessary to begin the path toward direct inter-Afghan talks that could actually end the war. “It’s almost like a framing document that narrows the conflict and — if we succeed — winds it down in the future,” he said.
Several lawmakers I spoke with in Munich said that if Trump presents the deal as a full U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, rather than a reduction that leaves forces as an insurance policy until actual peace breaks out, it would be a disaster.
“I think a lot of how this works going forward depends on signaling out of Washington about whether we are turning our backs and going away or whether we have the Afghan government’s back,” Whitehouse said.
Several other large questions about the deal remain unanswered. Will the United States and the Taliban wait until the results of the recent Afghan elections are counted and released? Moving forward before the Afghan government has real legitimacy could undermine their leverage vis-a-vis the Taliban.
Additionally, will the Taliban agree to abide by the Afghan constitution, which guarantees not only democracy but also protections for women and minorities? Does the deal address Pakistan’s role in reducing violence or eliminating terrorist safe havens? If not — and there’s no indication it does — that could be a huge loophole.
Some of these questions could be answered when the text of the agreement is released. Some will not be answered for many months after that, if ever. And the greatest fear among members of Congress and others alike is that Trump will want to withdraw all U.S. troops before the election regardless of whether the safety of Afghanistan and the United States can be assured.
Source: The New York Times
Despite the Americans spending an estimated $900 billion on the Afghan conflict since then, the Taliban are now at their strongest since being ousted from power. The group controls or contests about half the country and regularly stages attacks in Kabul.
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What total nonsense! The US talking about the Afghanistan occupation as if it was a major world war – instead of addressing it as what it is: A very lengthy occupatio. ,After 19 years of US military ‘presence’ in that country, Washington is finally talking about getting out….very very slowly- if ever, keeping the world held in suspense until they make a final decision…good luck on that! I doubt that the CIA wants to give up that lucrative poppyseed money that is uses to fund its covert (aren’t all of them?) operations around the world..
Cutting back from 14,000 to about 9,000 is a drop in the bucket …once the US has a foothold in any country, it never gives up…like a pit bull..and will never ‘bring the troops home’ under any circumstances – —oh, just one: that their occupation is deemed moot by the Pentagon.CIA bunch….and that isn’t going to happen anytime soon.
rabbi trump is doing this for the election and it is bullsh it anyway there will still be over 10K troops there to insure the heroin flow
If one ever wants to see a picture of a bunch of brainwashed robots, take a good look at that foto at the beginning of this article. USA! USA! USA!
True, but that is armies everywhere.
A “uniform” means something – uniform thought and behavior and beliefs.
Trump is just getting ready to praise himself in the election, really having done almost nothing.
His pick-up truck and Nascar crowd will cheer that he’s saving the “boyz.”
A regular “dashboard Jesus” for peace.
What in the hell would 8600 troops, plus all their killing machines, still be doing in Afghanistan after 18 years of pointless violence?
By the way, the machines are very important since it is bombing and strafing that have killed so many over the years, not ground troops.
Umm, same thing as when they went in . . . to protect them opium fields forever . . . The Cancer In America needs lots of cash to finance its numerous operations.
There is truth in what you say.
But it was not the same when they went in.
The Taliban government had virtually ended opium poppy growing.
America and its local friends of the old Northern Alliance brought it back.
Find that hard to believe. Taliban is emphatic that ALL US/NATO leave. Coming from NYT makes the story suspect.