WASHINGTON – Another round of talks aimed at resolving nearly two decades of fighting in Afghanistan has ended without a deal, but the Trump administration is moving ahead regardless with plans to substantially cut the number of U.S. troops and diplomats in the conflicted country.
An overly hasty downsizing of U.S. military, diplomatic and aid personnel could risk sacrificing some of the progress made in human rights and development, some experts warn — especially if no meaningful peace treaty is in place. At the same time, U.S. patience for America’s longest conflict is at an end.
U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad was headed back to Washington on Wednesday to “consult the next steps” after what he described as 10 days of “productive” talks with Taliban leaders in Qatar that focused on technical issues.
“I hope this is the last Eid where #Afghanistan is at war,” he said in a Twitter message marking the Islamic holiday. “I know Afghans yearn for peace. We stand with them and are working hard toward a lasting & honorable peace agreement and a sovereign Afghanistan which poses no threat to any other country.”
The deal that Khalilzad is attempting to negotiate with the Taliban would remove around half of an estimated 20,000 U.S. and other foreign troops from Afghanistan in exchange for guarantees that the country will not once again host radical Islamic militants.
Another key sticking point is declaring a cease-fire. The U.S. is insisting on a halt of bloodshed, but the Taliban sees violence as a potent tool. It has continued detonating bombs and attacking security forces even as the talks dragged on. Taliban representatives are also warning Afghan citizens against voting in next month’s presidential election, threatening to attack election sites.
“A complete military exit from Afghanistan today would be even more ill-advised and risky than the Obama administration’s disengagement from Iraq in 2011,” Gen. David H. Petraeus, the retired Army general who commanded international troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, wrote in an opinion piece published by The Wall Street Journal over the weekend. “If the Trump administration orders a full pullout from Afghanistan, there is considerably less doubt about what will happen — full-blown civil war and the re-establishment of a terrorist sanctuary as existed when the 9/11 attacks were planned there..