After a week-long deal to reduce violence across Afghanistan, the U.S. and the Taliban are set to sign a historic agreement Saturday that would see U.S. troops start to withdraw, according to a statement issued Friday afternoon by President Donald Trump.
"Soon, at my direction, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will witness the signing of an agreement with representatives of the Taliban, while Secretary of Defense Mark Esper will issue a joint declaration with the government of Afghanistan. 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," Trump said.
Pompeo is headed now to Doha, Qatar, where the U.S. and the militant group have engaged in talks for over a year and a half and the signing ceremony is expected to take place. At the same time, Esper is expected in that joint statement to reaffirm U.S. support for the Afghan government, long rejected by the Taliban and sidelined from their talks with U.S. negotiators.
The agreement with the militant group that harbored the al Qaeda operatives responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks comes after over 18 years of war. The Trump administration hopes it is poised to reshape Afghanistan, leading to national peace negotiations and ending any Taliban safe haven for terrorists that threaten the U.S. homeland. But critics warn the Taliban has neither the ability nor perhaps the appetite to carry out their commitments.
According to Pompeo, the agreement triggers a "conditions-based and phased" U.S. withdrawal and the "commencement" of Afghan negotiations where "all sides of the conflict will sit down together and begin the hard work of reconciliation." U.S. officials say the deal also includes Taliban commitments on counterterrorism, although those details are still unclear.
"These commitments represent an important step to a lasting peace in a new Afghanistan, free from Al Qaeda, ISIS, and any other terrorist group that would seek to bring us harm," Trump said in his statement. "Ultimately it will be up to the people of Afghanistan to work out their future. We, therefore, urge the Afghan people to seize this opportunity for peace and a new future for their country."If this works out, maybe we'll finally get out of the war that has lasted for three-quarters of my adult life. The thing is though given the history of both Donald Trump and the Taliban that it's not going to work out at all. Even a best case scenario at this point is troops in Afghanistan for years.
Initially, the U.S. will draw down its troops from 13,000 to 8,600 -- a level that Gen. Scott Miller, the commander of U.S. and NATO forces, has said is still sufficient to carry out their mission. While that draw down is expected to take months, conditions and timelines for further reductions after that are unclear.
On top of that, the deal forces the Afghan government to release some 5,000 Taliban prisoners. Sure is going to go well for Kabul, huh?
That's not worth celebrating just yet, but Trump of course is doing it anyway.
Trump begins coronavirus press conference talking about his surrender to the Taliban in Afghanistan. pic.twitter.com/O1ZYzsFG2d— Sarah Reese Jones (@PoliticusSarah) February 29, 2020
Once again this is Donald Trump telling us what he plans to do, but acting like it's already been accomplished and that he, Donald Trump, is the smartest man on Earth.
He's been wrong every other time before.