|America shouldn’t, Hudson Institute Director for South and Central Asia Hussain Haqqani writes in Foreign Policy, arguing that the framework under discussion—withdrawal, in exchange for peace and denial of terrorist safe haven—looks a lot like the Soviet withdrawal conditions of 1988. Cracks have already appeared in US/Taliban negotiations, as the State Department denied a Taliban claim that the US had promised to withdraw half its troops by April.
The Pentagon and the White House did not immediately respond to the Taliban official’s comments.
In December, a U.S. official said Trump was planning to pull out more than 5,000 troops, or about a third of the total 14,000 U.S. personnel in Afghanistan. Last week, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Scott Miller, told ABC News that he was always looking for ways to reduce the U.S. footprint there where possible but said there was no order to drawn down. “I want the right capabilities here, not necessarily specific numbers, so I’m always looking to reduce where I’m able to, and be as efficient as possible,” he said.”
In Moscow the Taliban delegation reiterated the group’s demand that all U.S. forces withdraw from Afghanistan.
The group’s representatives have been taking part at the highly unusual meeting with key Afghan powerbrokers, among them Afghanistan’s former president, Hamid Karzai, who have said they hope the event can build trust and lay a foundation for a possible political settlement in the future.
Afghanistan’s government though has refused to attend the talks in Moscow, criticizing them as undermining its legitimacy. The government, led by president Ashraf Ghani, is already uneasy that it has been sidelined from the U.S.-Taliban talks and faces the challenge of other powerful political figures in Afghanistan seeking to take leading roles in the burgeoning peace efforts with the Taliban.
Afghanistan’s government is anxious that a sudden U.S. exit could see it rapidly weakened and there are worries the country could fall further into violent chaos or renewed civil war as other warlords emerge to compete with the Taliban.
On Tuesday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called Ghani to reassure him of the U.S. commitment to Afghanistan.
Ghani in a tweet said that Pompeo had “stressed that there is no uncertainty and ambiguity about the U.S. commitment to Afghanistan” and that Pompeo had “underscored the central importance of ensuring the centrality of the Afghan government in the peace process.”
A readout released by the State Department, however, said Pompeo had also emphasized the importance of an “intra-Afghan dialogue” and expressed the U.S. determination to find “the conditions for the Afghan government, other Afghan leaders and the Taliban to sit together and negotiate a political settlement.”
Trump’s desire to withdraw points to a larger question about America’s role in the world: While Trump is right to reject the role of world policeman, Haqqani writes, America should accept the more-limited role of umpire. The Wall Street Journal, for its part, agrees, writing that Trump seems to misunderstand that keeping troops abroad can maintain stability and that he “shouldn’t mislead his supporters at home and upset friends abroad by suggesting that peace can be purchased by American retreat.”
President Trump won applause in Tuesday night’s State of the Union address when he declared that “great nations do not fight endless wars.” It’s a resonant line in a country that has been fighting in parts of the Middle East for nearly two decades. And, in a literal sense, the statement is true.