The United States has signed a landmark peace agreement with Taliban militants aimed at bringing an end to 18 years of bloodshed in Afghanistan and allowing US troops to return home from America’s longest war.
U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad and Taliban deputy leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar signed the deal in a hotel in Dohar, Qatar on Saturday, in the presence of U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
The agreement lays out a path and timetable for a full troop withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan within 14 months, beginning with a drawdown to 8,600 troops “within months”.
The deal stipulates that the Taliban pledged to begin talks with the Afghan government and not to protect terrorist groups intent on attacking the West.
Should the Taliban renege on their security guarantees and commitment to hold such talks, the United States “will not hesitate to nullify” the deal, US Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Saturday.
A costly war in dollars and human life
President George W. Bush ordered the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in response to the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, plotted out by Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaida network and which resulted in the deaths of almost 3,000 people.
Bin Laden had been harbored by the Taliban and it took only a few months to topple the Taliban and send Osama bin Laden and top al-Qaida militants scrambling across the border into Pakistan. But the war dragged on for years as the United States tried to establish a stable, functioning state in one of the world’s least developed countries.
The Taliban regrouped, and currently, hold sway over half the country.
The US spent more than $750 billion on the war in Afghanistan. It also claimed tens of thousands of lives on all sides.
The promise to take the US out of ‘endless wars’
U.S. troops are to be withdrawn to 8,600 from about 13,000 in the weeks following Saturday’s signing. Further drawdowns are to depend on the Taliban meeting certain counter-terrorism conditions, compliance that will be assessed by the United States.
Trump has approached the Taliban agreement cautiously, steering clear of the crowing surrounding other major foreign policy actions, such as his talks with North Korea.
Under the agreement, the Taliban promise not to let extremists use the country as a staging ground for attacking the U.S. or its allies. But U.S. officials are wary of trusting the Taliban to fulfill their obligations.
Afghanistan’s future in the balance
The agreement sets the stage for peace talks involving Afghan factions, which are likely to be complicated.
Under the agreement, 5,000 Taliban are to be released from Afghan-run jails, but the Afghan government has yet to confirm it will do that. There are also questions about whether Taliban fighters loyal to various warlords will be willing to disarm.