The United States is edging closer to an end of the longest war in the nation’s history.
Negotiators announced a tentative U.S.-Taliban agreement that would remove 5,400 U.S. troops from Afghanistan 135 days after the deal is signed. That’s more than a third of the U.S. military presence in the nation. Future withdrawals would be contingent on the Taliban abiding by the terms of the agreement, according to The Washington Post’s reporting from Kabul.
In exchange for the initial withdrawal, the Taliban would agree to cut ties with al-Qaida and provide counterterrorism guarantees.
The deal is tentative for a lot of reasons. It doesn’t have buy-in yet from the our key ally, Afghanistan government, which wasn’t part of the negotiations. Also, it doesn’t move forward without the OK from President Donald Trump, who has been kept advised of progress in the talks but is notoriously mercurial in negotiations once they hit the public stage.
Opposition within the Republican Party already seems to be rising, centered on the convincing argument — driven by memories of the disastrous end to the Vietnam War — that too many American troops died and too much American money was spent to withdraw on the enemies’ terms. The counterargument is that we aren’t leaving on the Taliban’s terms, they’re accepting ours.
There are two vectors at odds with one another here: We can’t continue the war endlessly. That’s a waste of lives and money that only breeds future generations of Taliban partisans determined to attack the U.S. But we don’t want to leave and have to go back if the Taliban falls back to its old ways of allying with terrorists. It’s not lost on anyone that only a few days before the deal was announced, the Taliban seemed to start a renewed offensive, attacking northern Afghan cities.
At some point, peace has to be the answer. Whether that point is now is a good question.
The tentative agreement needs a full public debate, much of which will center on this question: If we don’t trust the Taliban — and we don’t — does the agreement leave us enough leverage to keep them in line as we gradually ease off the throttle of an 18-year war?
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