It’s not a done deal; it’s just a beginning, and a shaky one at that.
But if the current steps taken by the Trump administration to end the long conflict in Afghanistan succeed, they will be cause for celebration.
On Saturday, the U.S. signed an agreement with the Taliban intended to lead to peace talks later this month; those talks in turn could lead to a permanent ceasefire and the withdrawal of all U.S. and allied forces in the next 14 months. The Taliban, for their part, would have to commit to preventing terrorist groups from using Afghan soil to plot attacks on the U.S. or its allies, among other demands.
The process will not be smooth or quick. But there’s no perfect way to extricate ourselves from such a complicated quagmire.
President George W. Bush ordered the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan following the 9/11 attack in 2001. The Taliban were sent running out of the country, along with Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida. That could have been the conclusion of our involvement there, but we lingered, in an attempt to help build a stable and functioning government not run by drug lords.
That turned out to be a tall order. The Afghan people are notoriously independent and averse to occupation by foreign agents. “Afghanistan is where empires go to die,” we heard at the time.
Skip ahead a few years: The U.S. has spent almost $1 trillion in Afghanistan. We’ve lost more than 3,500 U.S. and coalition soldiers. More than 2,400 of them were from the U.S., a number of them from North Carolina. And the government we tried to help establish still isn’t stable or free from corruption. If we haven’t achieved our goals after a generation, we never will.
But we can’t just walk away and abandon our Afghan allies. Government officials need assurance that our agreement with the Taliban will protect the Afghan people.
We also must insist that the Afghans who supported the U.S. mission, as translators, expeditors or in other roles, if they’re in danger, be brought to the U.S. for their safety. Our senators, Richard Burr and Thom Tillis, have spoken in favor of such efforts and they must stand firm, even if it means crossing the president.
Unfortunately, the agreement signed on Saturday has thus far not ended violence in the region. On Monday, as Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper announced that the U.S. had begun withdrawing troops from Afghanistan, the Taliban was busy attacking Afghan forces on several fronts, as if to test our resolve — or thumb their noses at us.
The Taliban also said on Monday that it wouldn’t take part in the talks until the Afghan government released about 5,000 of their prisoners.
It’s also problematic that many of our negotiations with the Taliban have excluded representatives of the Afghan government. Their satisfaction is essential.
“This is going to be a long, windy, bumpy road,” Esper said on Monday. “That’s going to be the nature of this over the next days, weeks and months. And so I’m not going to get too excited about what happens at the moment. We’re just going to deal with each situation as it arises and make sure we stay focused on the mission.” That’s a sober assessment.
Before the election, President Trump regularly railed against our involvement in Afghanistan. He deserves credit for trying to end the conflict. If he succeeds, he’ll deserve our thanks.
But we all have to take this one day at a time, hoping and praying for the best for our country, for the Afghan people and for the military personnel who have devoted themselves to our Afghan mission.