DOHA (QATAR): The United States signed a deal with the Taliban on Saturday that sets the stage to end America’s longest war — the nearly two-decade-old conflict in Afghanistan that began after the
, killed tens of thousands of people, vexed three
administrations and left mistrust and uncertainty on all sides.
The agreement lays out a timetable for the final withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan, the impoverished Central Asian country once unfamiliar to many Americans that now symbolises endless conflict, foreign entanglements and a potential stage for terrorist plots.
The war in Afghanistan in some ways echoes the American experience in Vietnam. In both, a superpower bet heavily on brute strength and the lives of its young, then walked away with seemingly little to show.
American efforts to instil a democratic system in the country, and to improve opportunities for women and minorities, are at risk if the Taliban, which banned girls from schools and women from public life, become dominant again. Corruption is still rampant, the country’s institutions are feeble, and the economy is heavily dependent on American and other international aid. The signing of the agreement in Doha, which followed more than a year of stop-and-start negotiations and conspicuously excluded the American-backed Afghanistan government, is not a final peace deal and could still unravel. But it is seen as a step toward negotiating a more sweeping agreement that some hope could eventually end the insurgency of the Taliban, the militant movement that once governed Afghanistan under a severe Islamic code.
The war cost $2 trillion and took the lives of more than 3,500 American and coalition troops and tens of thousands of Afghans since the US invasion in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, which were plotted by al-Qaida leaders under the protection of the Taliban.
According to the joint statement, the US will complete its troop withdrawal from Afghanistan within 14 months with the initial drawdown of forces from a total of 13,000 to 8,600 happening in the next four months. In the first 135 days, the US will reduce the number of US forces in Afghanistan to 8,600 and proportionally bring reduction in the number of its allies and coalition forces. The US is committed to withdraw from Afghanistan all its military forces, troops of its allies and coalition partnerswithin 14 months of the agreement.
The withdrawal of
is dependent on the Taliban’s fulfilment of major commitments that have been obstacles for years, including its severance of ties with international terrorist groups such as al-Qaida.
The agreement signed Saturday also hinges on more difficult negotiations to come between the Taliban and the Afghan government over the country’s future. Officials hope those talks will produce a power-sharing arrangement and lasting ceasefire, but both ideas have been anathema to the Taliban in the past. “The future of Afghanistan is for Afghans to determine,” said Secretary of State
in Doha for the ceremony. “The US-Taliban deal creates the conditions for Afghans to do just that.” The Trump administration has framed the deal as the long-awaited promise made to war-weary Americans, for whom the Afghan war has defined a generation of loss and trauma but has yielded no victory.
At the height of the war, more than 100,000 U.S. troops occupied Afghanistan, as did tens of thousands from about 40 nations in the U.S.-led NATO coalition. The war has gone on so long — the first allied warplane and cruise missiles struck on Oct. 7, 2001, and American boots hit the ground in numbers on Oct. 19 — that many young Afghan soldiers and their coalition partners have no memory of its onset.
“If the Taliban and the government of Afghanistan live up to these commitments, we will have a powerful path forward to end the war in Afghanistan and bring our troops home,” President Donald Trump said on Friday before the signing of the deal. “These commitments represent an important step to a lasting peace in a new Afghanistan, free from al-Qaida, ISIS, and any other terrorist group that would seek to bring us harm.”
From the start of the talks, late in 2018, Afghan officials were troubled that the Taliban had blocked them from participating. They worried that Trump would abruptly withdraw troops from Afghanistan without securing any of the conditions they saw as crucial, including a reduction in violence and a Taliban promise to negotiate in good faith with the government.
The chief American envoy,
, signed on behalf of the United States. Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, a current Taliban deputy and a figure from the original Taliban government, signed for the Taliban. The two shook hands as the room erupted in cheers. During the signing, another senior American official, Defense Secretary Mark Esper, was with Afghan officials in Kabul. They issued a joint declaration asserting the US’ commitment to continue funding and supporting the Afghan military. And Esper emphasized that if the Taliban did not honor their pledges, “the US would not hesitate to nullify the agreement.”
Afghan officials expressed cautious hope. At the Kabul meeting, President
called for a moment of silence for those killed in the past 18 years and said, “Today can be a day of overcoming the past.”