At what point does the US leave the battleground known as Afghanistan? Every president since the beginning of the US involvement has said that our troops were not there indefinitely…and yet 18 years on and they are still there….
And very little with change with this next election…..candidates are asked about keeping troops in Afghanistan and the canned response is….”not indefinitely but a realistic approach to withdrawal”……and that has been the answer for 15 years maybe longer….
Afghanistan is a conundrum…….
In January 2018, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani publicly admitted that without American support, his government and the Afghan National Army couldn’t last very long. That remains the case today: the government is in disarray and the ANA is barely holding out against the Taliban-led insurgency.
Yet US President Donald Trump understandably wants to disentangle America, if possible through a political settlement, from what has become an unwinnable war. As such, the Taliban and their supporters have no compelling reason to let the Afghan government and the United States off the hook easily. And given the complex web of conflicting interests in Afghanistan, separate US and Russian efforts to reach an enduring settlement may not succeed.
Afghanistan’s problem is not primarily a military one. Despite the ANA’s heavy losses (more than 45,000 personnel since mid-2014) and increased insecurity in the country, the army has managed to prevent the Taliban from taking over any major city on a lasting basis. US funding of the ANA to the tune of some US$4 billion per year, together with allied operational assistance, has been crucial in this regard.
US negotiations with the Taliban have been making substantial progress in recent months, and there seem to be high hopes that a meeting next week in Doha would be a breakthrough moment. Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen suggested the deal is already effectively made.
Shaheen announced on Twitter Tuesday that the US had pledged to accept a full military withdrawal from Afghanistan, and furthermore to never again interfere in Afghan affairs.
That is certainly the direction the talks have been going, but US military spokesman Col. Dave Butler denied that any such deal was made, saying that “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.”
But the basic framework has always been a US withdrawal and the Taliban keeping ISIS and al-Qaeda out of Afghanistan. Further details may need to be worked out to finalize everything, and it’s not clear where they are in that process.
Still, for the US to completely deny that a deal is agreed to seems dishonest, even if technically it isn’t finalized. The US likely just isn’t ready to make this part of the deal official, because of the backlash from Congressional hawks who want to keep troops in Afghanistan forever.(antiwar.com)