The Trump administration’s envoy to Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, said on Monday the United States would withdraw almost 5,000 troops from Afghanistan and close five bases within 135 days. Top military officials must still approve the preliminary peace agreement with the Taliban extremists and it must still be signed off by President Trump.
In an interview with Tolo News, Khalilzad said that after months of negotiations with representatives from the terrorist insurgent movement, a deal was reached. But it must still be approved by President Donald Trump before it can take effect.
“Yes, we have reached an agreement in principle,” Mr. Khalilzad told Tolo News, “Of course; it is not final until the U.S. president [Donald Trump] agrees on it. So, at the moment, we are at that stage.”
In exchange for the steady withdrawal of U.S. troops, the Taliban would have to commit to preventing Afghanistan from being used by militant groups such as al Qaeda or ISIS terrorists as a base for attacks on the United States and its allies.
Senator Lindsay Graham said on Aug. 29, “The United States cannot contract out the American people’s security to the Taliban who—in exchange for a U.S. withdrawal—simply ‘promise’ to guarantee that al-Qaeda and ISIS-K are denied haven.” Khalilzad did not say how long the rest of the approximately 14,000 U.S. troops would remain in Afghanistan after the initial withdrawal.
Taliban extremists took responsibility for an explosion in Kabul late Monday, just a short time after a U.S. negotiator shared the details of a deal with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani to remove thousands of American troops from Afghanistan. President Ghani has seen the draft of the accord and will give an opinion after looking at the details of the agreement. Presidential spokesman Sediq Sediqqi said, “Afghan government has the details of the agreement. We will consult and comprehensively study this [document] and will try to formulate our observation based on our national interests.” Mr. Sediqqi continued, “The efforts of the U.S. and our allies will lead to a result when the Taliban enter into direct negotiations with the Afghan government and when we witness a ceasefire and end of violence.”
Khalilzad said the goal of the draft accord was to end the war and reduce violence, but that there was no formal ceasefire agreement. Any ceasefire would be up to Afghans themselves to negotiate. Ceasefire negotiations remain uncertain because the Taliban thus far refuse to deal directly with the current western-backed Afghan government. They consider it illegitimate and are in rebellion against it.
The talks might be held in Norway to reach a broader political goal and an end to the fighting between the Taliban and the government in Kabul.
Keeping a US Presence in Afghanistan
A key challenge in solving the problem in Afghanistan and bringing all U.S. troops home is that the Taliban are not a one-headed monster, but rather multiple groups with different ideologies and different goals. Some Taliban groups may want to work with the national government and take a conditions-based approach. But other factions take a more hard-line approach and want all foreign troops out immediately. The NATO coalition is training the Afghan military and police who are trying to defend the country against the Taliban.
According to the U.S. defense department, The United States “maintains a counter-terrorism effort in the nation, targeting ISIS extremists and al-Qaida. ISIS has made gains in the eastern and northern parts of the country. The group is actively seeking recruits, and officials label it as a threat to external attacks in Europe and the United States.”
In an Aug. 28 Pentagon press briefing, General Dunford answered questions about withdrawing troops from Afghanistan if the peace accord is signed. Dunford said, “When I think about Afghanistan, I think … We do not want Afghanistan to be a sanctuary from which the homeland can be threatened. From which the American people and our allies can be threatened. The other thing is the peace and stability in Afghanistan. The president and secretary have been clear to me that as the negotiations progress, we are going to ensure that our counter-terrorism objectives are addresses. So, I think it is premature; I am not using the word withdraw.”
He concluded by saying that if the accord were signed, they would re-evaluate their counter-terrorism strategy after assessing the entire situation and then make recommendations.
The war in Afghanistan has cost more than 2,300 American lives and hundreds of billions in taxpayer dollars.