U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration this week offered to pull out all American troops from Afghanistan over the next three to five years under a new peace proposal to end the more than 17-year-old war that the Pentagon presented to the Taliban as part of ongoing negotiations.
On Thursday, the New York Times (NYT) — which gained access to various elements of the proposed plan via more than a half-dozen current and former American and European officials — revealed:
All American troops would withdraw from Afghanistan over the next three to five years under a new Pentagon plan being offered in peace negotiations that could lead to a government in Kabul that shares power with the Taliban.
The rest of the international force in Afghanistan would leave at the same time, after having mixed success in stabilizing the country since 2001. The plan is being discussed with European allies and was devised, in part, to appeal to President Trump, who has long expressed skepticism of enduring American roles in wars overseas.
The plan calls for cutting by half, in coming months, the 14,000 American troops currently in Afghanistan. It would task the 8,600 European and other international troops with training the Afghan military — a focus of the NATO mission for more than a decade — and largely shift American operations to counterterrorism strikes.
Under President Trump, the U.S. has intensified peace talks with the Taliban after making the negotiated reconciliation between the Taliban and Kabul the primary tenet of its South Asia strategy released in 2017 and conceding that a military victory is unattainable.
Taliban jihadis have long demanded that foreign troops leave Afghanistan before it agrees to any peace negotiations with the Afghan government, which has so far been left out of peace negotiations at the behest of the terrorist group despite America’s insistence that the process is Kabul led and owned.
On Monday, American diplomats led by Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. special envoy for Afghanistan reconciliation, and a Taliban delegation, including one of the group’s co-founders, reportedly began the highest-level negotiations so far in Qatar.
The discussions in Doha mark the fourth time Taliban militants met with American negotiators.
Negotiators have briefly paused the talks with both sides saying the discussions are heading in the right direction. Talks are expected to resume discussions on Saturday.
Lt. Col. Koné Faulkner, a Pentagon spokesman, stressed to the Times that negotiations are ongoing and the Trump administration “is considering all options of force numbers and disposition.
President Trump has indicated that he is planning to leave behind a residual force to ensure the Taliban keeps any promises made under a potential peace accord, a move rejected by the terrorist group.
The U.S. is reportedly planning to shift its mission from training the Afghan forces to counterterrorism even if the peace talks fail. Former President Barack Obama declared the U.S. combat mission in Afghanistan over at the end of 2014 after pulling out most American troops, a move that allowed the Taliban to reach unprecedented power and influence.
Until the final withdrawal, several thousand American forces would continue strikes against Al Qaeda and the Islamic State, including on partnered raids with Afghan commandos. The counterterrorism missions, and the military’s dwindling presence, are also critical to allowing the C.I.A. to operate in Afghanistan.
During the ongoing round of talks, negotiators are trying to flesh out the framework for a deal agreed to “in principle” by the U.S. and the Taliban last month.
Under that framework, the U.S. would withdraw troops from Afghanistan in exchange for Taliban assurances that Afghanistan will not harbor international terrorists, including its ally al-Qaeda and rival the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL).
The Taliban — which is fighting to enforce strict Islamic laws or sharia — considers itself the only legitimate government in Afghanistan and has repeatedly dismissed Kabul as a U.S. “puppet.”
Trump administration officials have come out in support of Kabul’s offer of official recognition as a legitimate political force, effectively granting the terrorist group the opportunity to return to power in Kabul.
Soon after invading Afghanistan in search of the Taliban and its al-Qaeda allies after the 9/11 attacks, U.S. troops removed the Afghan terrorist group’s regime that had been ruling since 1996.
According to the latest assessment by the U.S Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), a watchdog agency, Afghan terrorists, primarily the Taliban, control or contest more than 45 percent of Afghanistan’s districts.
The Taliban has continued to gain territory despite the record number of U.S. airstrikes dropped on Afghan jihadis under Trump’s watch.
Most of the territory controlled by the Taliban sits in rural areas. SIGAR determined that the group controls or contests over 35 percent of the population.
Taliban narco-jihadis — who generate most of their terrorist funding from cultivating and trafficking opium and heroin — have continued to carry out attacks amid peace negotiations.
The ongoing round of peace negotiations came as the United Nations reported a record 3,804 civilian deaths last year mainly at the hands of Taliban improvised explosive devices (IEDs).
“Peace is not easy; it needs courage and bilateral honor,” Afghan President Ashraf Ghani declared on Thursday.
The United States has indicated it plans to continue providing reconstruction assistance to Afghanistan post-withdrawal, some of which could end up going to Taliban jihadis under a potential power-sharing agreement with Kabul.
Ghani and U.S. officials have warned that the Afghan security forces would collapse without international funding.
Although the vast majority (over $83 billion) of the estimated $132 billion spent on Afghan reconstruction has been devoted to training and equipping the Afghan security forces, they still struggle against the Taliban.
Some of the Afghan heroin is partly fueling the unprecedented number of drug overdose deaths in the United States. Nevertheless, the Trump administration quietly ended its airstrike campaign against the Taliban’s economic engine — heroin and opium labs — amid peace negotiations.
It remains uncertain whether or not the Trump administration will push the Taliban to stop cultivating and trafficking opium as part of peace negotiations.
Raging since October 2001, the Afghan war has come at an immense blood and treasure cost to the United States — nearly $1 trillion or at least $3 billion per month, 2,278 U.S. military deaths, 20,426 injuries.