As the United States pursues withdrawal from its nearly 18-year involvement in the Afghan war, it is holding another round of talks with the Taliban. Although a peace deal appears imminent, negotiators continue to hammer out the details of its eventual implementation, including how it might affect Afghanistan's September presidential elections. Washington’s primary goal will be to ensure that transnational extremists won't be able to use Afghanistan as a haven to plot future attacks.
On Aug. 29, President Donald Trump, who has made clear his interest in ending the U.S. involvement in the war in Afghanistan, said that 8,600 U.S. troops would remain in Afghanistan for the foreseeable future before the United States decides what path a further withdrawal from its long involvement in the war there will take. Trump’s comments come as U.S. and Taliban representatives in Doha, Qatar, are in the middle of a ninth round of peace talks, but the broad outlines of a deal have reportedly been agreed upon. The 14,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, joined by 8,000 NATO and allied nation forces, serve in complementary missions focusing on counterterrorism and training to support the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces against the Taliban's insurgency.
Why It Matters
While the remarks by Trump shed light on the contours of an imminent peace deal, their timing could complicate efforts to finalize it. The Taliban has held firm to the position that it would only consider ending its insurgency after all foreign troops withdraw from the country. The president's comments indicate that the United States would likely embark on a phased drawdown of its forces tied to the Taliban’s commitment to upholding an expected cease-fire, a core U.S. demand. In response, Taliban spokesman Sohail Shaheen reiterated the insurgency’s stance that it "will not compromise" on the "end of occupation." While the statement could indicate a remaining difference in the two sides' positions, it could also be part of a strategy to publicly project a firm attitude that covers for a more flexible stance at the negotiation table. Previous rounds of talks, which held similarly high expectations of a formal peace deal, have ended inconclusively.
Since October, the United States has pursued a comprehensive peace deal with the Taliban that contains four key points: a permanent cease-fire, a U.S. troop withdrawal, and a commitment by the Taliban to both combat terrorism and hold talks with the Afghan government, which has been shut out of the current negotiations. The United States invaded Afghanistan in October 2001 to dismantle the Taliban government, which had sheltered the planners of the 9/11 attacks.