Afghan Pullout — Is It Real?

Terry H. Schwadron

Aug. 26, 2019

We’re hearing more that a deal of some kind is pending with the Taliban to end U.S. or Coalition troop involvement in Afghanistan. But no one is outlining exactly what the deal is.

Actually the only thing that is clear is that there is a mess, and the White House lacks a plan to deal with it. In the last few days, Donald Trump says he wants to leave but leave some troops there to monitor rising a ISIS presence.

That sounds a lot like what we have now, just with different numbers.

After 17 years, with varying reasons for staying, our troops may come home — just in time for the 2020 presidential election. Ah, you cynic: You think there is some connection between the date and Donald Trump seeking re-election.

Despite the secrecy, New York Times columnist Bret Stephens seems to be talking off the record to State Department types who have knowledge about what has been discussed.

“The basic outline is this: a complete withdrawal of America’s 14,000 troops from Afghanistan within 14 months — that is, by October 2020 — in exchange for a promise from the Taliban not to attack our forces on the way out, along with some kind of vague assurance from them that Afghanistan will not again become a base for global terrorism. A source familiar with the deal says there is no explicit requirement for the Taliban to renounce its ties to Al Qaeda.”

Apart from whether this represents a good deal or bad, it is a decision owned by Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who, as a senator, would have hated this possible outcome. Indeed, this is exactly the kind of deal that former president Barak Obama ended up with in Iraq, all to the vocal criticism of Donald Trump, who labeled Obama the “father of terrorism” for leaving while elements of ISIS were beginning to gather inside Iraq.

Well, here we are on the cusp of an Afghan deal that the Afghan government doesn’t like, that Republicans in Congress don’t really like, that the military and intelligence communities seem less than ready to embrace, that will leave a growing if still nascent ISIS presence inside Afghanistan.

We have a president in Trump who so much wants to end the endless war that he is willing to overlook the word from the generals who say we need a continuing presence.

Stephens says that the details of the negotiations, which are being conducted in Qatar by U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad could be finalized by the end of the month. They are being held so secret, that Stephens says Pompeo will not allow their discussion in the White House except in his presence.

We have a president in Trump who so much wants to end the endless war that he is willing to do the opposite of what he says he is doing and just walk away from Afghanistan — though he contradicted himself again by announcing at week’s end that some troops would have to stay. The chaos left behind is an open guerrilla war on the Afghan government, which may be the Taliban government just a quick as a wink, and conflicts about stability, economy and the status of women in that society.

“Even those who want the U.S. to leave Afghanistan, come what may, should be dismayed to see an American strategic decision be so nakedly dictated by the electoral needs of a president who wants to take credit for ending ‘endless wars.’ They should be no less dismayed by the idea that we are doing so in plain indifference to Afghanistan’s government, which wasn’t invited to the talks because the Taliban won’t deign to speak to what it considers a puppet government,” said Stephens.

The puppets were elected, of course. And those who opposed previous attempts to deal with the Taliban are the same ones now pushing for the Trump deal to work.

Conservative critics in particular have pointed out that it was the Taliban who fosted Al Qaeda terrorists and hid Osama bin Laden. The deputy leader of the Taliban is Sirajuddin Haqqani, who also leads the Haqqani Network that has been entwined with Al Qaeda since its earliest days.

There are plenty of voices calling for an end to U.S. presence in Afghanistan, particularly among the Democratic presidential candidates. The truth is that at this point there have been 14 U.S. deaths among troops, including those from training accidents rather than combat.

Among the hawks, who once included the same congressman Mike Pompeo from Kansas, the biggest cost would be the cost of withdrawal — and the eventual need to recommit troops to fight an inevitable ISIS buildup.

Once again, we seem to have the need for a good story for political purposes driving the policy decision-making in Washington, rather than a clear statement of what we are trying to achieve — politics be damned.


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