snapshots

Sep 9, 2019 | 21:33 GMT

4 mins read

U.S., Afghanistan: Trump Pulls the Plug on Talks With the Taliban

(Stratfor)
The Big Picture

As U.S. President Donald Trump enters his reelection campaign, he wants to clinch a major foreign policy victory by securing a peace agreement that would begin a U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. Trump's two predecessors, George W. Bush (who launched the conflict in 2001 under the erstwhile "Global War on Terrorism") and Barack Obama (who oversaw a massive counterinsurgency campaign in Afghanistan), both failed to end the nearly 18-year-long conflict. For Trump, who has long opposed U.S. involvement in Afghanistan, drawing down troops remains a top priority — especially given his administration's strategic shift toward the great power competition. 

What Happened

The longest war in U.S. history is likely about to get a little longer. On Sept. 7, U.S. President Donald Trump took to Twitter to declare he was calling off a secret summit at Camp David that would have involved meetings with the Taliban and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani to secure a peace deal in Afghanistan. More than that, however, Trump also declared an abrupt end to a year's worth of U.S.-Taliban negotiations — citing continuing violence from the Taliban, including a Sept. 5 attack that killed a U.S. service member and at least 11 others.

On Sept. 8, the Taliban released a statement chiding Trump, saying the United States had "seemed content with the progress" after the two sides reached a consensus on a draft peace deal that the lead U.S. negotiator, Zalmay Khalilzad, heralded just last week. Cautioning Trump that his decision "would harm America more than anyone else," the Taliban expressed an interest in resuming dialogue, noting that they would only meet with Ghani's government after first inking an agreement with Washington.

Why It Matters

Trump's decision brings to a halt — at least, temporarily — an 11-month-long dialogue between the United States and Taliban. This comes just as talks had reached a critical phase. While the wider conflict in Afghanistan was destined to persist throughout the next few months, a deal would have set the groundwork to finally ease hostilities. According to Khalilzad, the two sides were reportedly working toward an agreement that would have resulted in the United States beginning the withdrawal of 5,000 troops and closure of five bases over 135 days, in exchange for a reduction of violence in the Afghan provinces of Kabul and Parwan. Even so, the U.S. envoy's draft considerably lowered the ambitions of an Afghan peace deal, leaving the matter of a comprehensive nationwide cease-fire until Taliban-Kabul talks on Sept. 23.

Nevertheless, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said Trump is still contemplating a drawdown, suggesting the process could resume in the near future as Washington, the Taliban and Kabul still seek a political settlement. As for Ghani, the cancellation of the talks raises the prospect that Afghanistan's Sept. 28 presidential elections will proceed on time, since there was a chance the United States or the Taliban could have pushed for a delay as a result of any agreement. 

Trump's decision brings to a halt — at least temporarily — an 11-month-long dialogue between the United States and Taliban, just as talks had reached a critical phase.

Background 

Since October, Khalilzad has held nine rounds of talks with the Taliban to finalize a comprehensive peace agreement centered on four points. These points include a permanent cease-fire; a U.S. troop drawdown; a Taliban pledge to counter the Islamic State, al Qaeda and other militant groups; and a Taliban commitment to begin talks with the U.S.-backed government in Kabul (which the Taliban have continued to shun).

The United States initially invaded Afghanistan in October 2001 to dismantle the Taliban government for hosting al Qaeda, the jihadist group that plotted the 9/11 attacks under Osama bin Laden. And Washington has been at war in the country ever since, amounting to the longest conflict in U.S. history. 

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