Taliban-Linked Source Says U.S. Ready for ‘Withdrawal Plan’ in Afghanistan

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AFP Photos/MUNIR UZ ZAMAN
EDWIN MORA

The United States offered a military “withdrawal plan” in exchange for a ceasefire this week during talks with the Taliban to end the war in Afghanistan, a source close to the jihadis told the Times on Wednesday.

The U.S. made the proposal, which would allow the United States to maintain three military bases in Afghanistan, during the latest round of dialogue between American and Taliban representatives in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

This week, the U.S. and the Taliban participated in a two-day round of peace negotiations in Abu Dhabi in the presence of officials from Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and the UAE — the only countries that officially recognized the terrorist group’s regime during its five years of oppressive rule in Afghanistan and are believed to have sway over the jihadi organization.

Taliban terrorists have long insisted on the complete withdrawal of United States-NATO troops, a move that appears to be on the same page with the many Americans who have grown tired of the war and want U.S. troops to return home.

An unnamed source close to the Taliban negotiators told the Times:

The major focus is on ceasefire now. The Americans have been asking for a six-month ceasefire and are also ready to give a withdrawal plan. They want at least three bases in Afghanistan but have assured they would not interfere in Afghanistan’s internal affairs. Security will be the responsibility of the Afghan security forces. The bases would only serve to safeguard their interests in the region especially against Russia and China.

In June, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also indicated that the Trump administration is open to discussing the withdrawal.

Months before the latest round of negotiations, the Trump administration came out in support of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s offer to the Taliban of a truce and official recognition as a legitimate political power.

Trump administration officials have made reconciliation between Kabul and the Taliban the top priority of its strategy to bring America’s longest foreign war to a close.

Zalmay Khalilzad, the Trump administration’s special representative in charge of the talks for Afghan reconciliation to the war, is leading America’s peace-seeking efforts.

During the recent talks, the envoy indicated that the U.S. “discussed the future of the American military presence in Afghanistan and an offer of a three-month cease-fire during which the insurgents and the Afghan government could have negotiations,” the New York Times (NYT) noted.

Khalilzad reportedly demanded, “Assurances that Afghanistan will not become a haven for terrorists who want to target the United States.”

While ruling out a “pre-9/11 situation” in Afghanistan, Khalilzad told TOLO News he had told the Taliban that “if the menace of terrorism is tackled, the United States is not looking for a permanent military presence” in the country, according to the Agence France-Presse (AFP) news agency.

According to the Pentagon, the Afghanistan-Pakistan region is home to the “highest regional concentration” of terrorist groups in the world.

In August, the United Nations reported that the relationship between al-Qaeda and the Taliban, the jihadi allies behind the 9/11 attacks on the American homeland, “remains firm.”

After the talks this week, a spokesman for the Taliban also stressed that the recent discussions focused on the withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan, a long-stated goal of the terrorist group.

Khalilzad is leading the Trump administration’s intensified efforts to end the war in Afghanistan, raging since October 2001 at the cost of nearly $1 trillion, 2,276 U.S. military fatalities, and 20,415 injuries.

Terrorists, primarily Taliban jihadis, control or contest about 45 percent of Afghanistan, the U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), a watchdog agency, reported earlier this year.

The Long War Journal, a component of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies think-tank, estimated last month that the Taliban and its Haqqani Network allies have between 28,000 and 40,000 jihadis in Afghanistan.

On Wednesday, the Trump administration announced that it was pulling out of Syria, prompting the Associated Press (AP) to suggest that Afghanistan may be next.

“If he’s willing to walk away from Syria, I think we should be concerned about whether Afghanistan is next,” Jennifer Cafarella, the director of intelligence planning at the Institute for the Study of War, told the AP.

The president has defended his decision to pull out of Syria, writing on Twitter Thursday:

Getting out of Syria was no surprise. I’ve been campaigning on it for years, and six months ago, when I very publicly wanted to do it, I agreed to stay longer. Russia, Iran, Syria & other are the locla enemy of ISIS. We were doing [their] work. Time to come home & rebuild. … Does the USA want to be the Policeman of the Middle East, getting NOTHING but spending precious lives and trillions of dollars protecting others who, in almost all cases, do not appreciate what we are doing? Do we want to be there forever?

Several U.S. military officials have said the war in Afghanistan is at a “stalemate.”

Echoing other assessments, the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) noted this week, “Taliban officials have shown in their talks with the U.S. since July some willingness to moderate the group’s absolutist demands, accepting, for example, an incremental withdrawal of American forces over an extended period of years, people familiar with the talks say.”

Citing the Taliban’s ongoing refusal to meet with the Taliban, Khalil “raised doubts Thursday about the Taliban’s desire to end the 17-year war,” AFP acknowledged.

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