An Exit Deal, Not a Peace Deal

After many months of negotiations, the United States and the Taliban have released the terms of an agreement designed to end the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan nearly two decades after the 9/11 attacks. The terms of deal, spelled out in a four-page document released Saturday and loaded with American concessions to our longtime jihadist foe, make clear that the agreement is less the “peace deal” that the Trump administration celebrated and more the “exit deal” that the Taliban had long demanded.

The concessions are significant. U.S troops begin a gradual withdrawal almost immediately, with the goal of a conditions-based “complete withdrawal of foreign forces” shortly after the U.S. election. The U.S. will lift its sanctions on Taliban leaders and promises to work on behalf of the Taliban at the United Nations to have international sanctions lifted, too. The language of the deal assumes that the current elected government of Afghanistan will be removed in order to make the new government more “representative,” meaning more Taliban-inclusive. And some 5,000 detained Taliban jihadists—ranging from low-level fighters all the way up to senior operatives—are set to be released as the work of putting together a post-withdrawal Afghan government begins in earnest.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, the elected leader of Afghanistan, objected to that last provision after the deal was released, given that these same Taliban fighters have spent years attempting to assassinate top Afghan government officials. “We have not made a commitment to release them. It’s a sovereign Afghan decision.” Ghani’s views were not represented in the talks, after the U.S. acceded to Taliban demands to exclude the current government from negotiations. The Taliban has long insisted the elected Afghan government is illegitimate.

The deal has required top Trump administration officials to back away from key claims made in the five months since President Trump canceled the meeting he’d planned with senior Taliban leaders at Camp David the week of the 18th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Just two weeks ago, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper declared: “Nobody right now is calling for the complete removal of US and coalition forces, U.S. forces will remain there as long as necessary to support our Afghan partners.” The agreement, however, declares: “The United States, its allies, and the Coalition will complete withdrawal of all remaining forces in Afghanistan within the remaining nine and a half (9.5) months.” The Taliban need not complete its obligations to bring about such a withdrawal; the agreement merely calls for the Taliban to provide “commitment and action on the obligations” of the deal.

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Comments (32)
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  • Acceding to the Taliban's demand that the Afghani Govt be excluded from negotiations, release of 5K terrorists, and no verifications, yikes, so where is evidence of the great negotiating skills of President Trump? I get that he wants to leave but this seems very weak. I cannot imagine what his response would have been had President Obama made this agreement.

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    1. The exclusion of the Afghani Government from the negotiations is very Munich-like.

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      1. It is isnt it? The President keeping his promises and choosing capitulation over that of continued warfare.

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  • This reminds me of our exit from Vietnam. Peace with Honor. Or, give us the prisoners and we'll leave. After 18 years, continued casualties, and a stalemate that will only last as long as our troops are there getting killed, the choices are all bad. 18 years is an eternity for an American war, and a blink of an eye for an Afghan one. I am not a fan of the president, but this might be the right call.

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  • I enjoyed your interview on Julie Mason's show today Steve.

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  • I'm an Air Force Academy grad and served one tour in Korea among other places. The whole premise of "endless war" is wrong in my opinion. We are still in Korea (and Japan for heaven's sake) and we transitioned from a "war" status to a "strategic forward basing" status decades ago. I would consider Afghanistan in that transition. Getting out is seems shortsighted. Basing in Afghanistan helps us with strategic challenges in Iran, Pakistan and China not to mention the former SSR's. I'd be more supportive of reducing our European footprint in order to fund these higher risk areas.

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  • Trump wanted out of Afghanistan in the worst possible way and he got it. But you go back to the Iran deal under Pres. Obama, and it just seems that some of the deals we are making are just horrible. No one, and I mean no one from Trump on down, expects the Taliban to adhere to any deal. And while the deal essentially eliminates the current Afghan government (aka Munich), that government was doomed anyway. The only glimmer of hope out of this is that tribal infighting might soon paralyze the Taliban.
    But the imagine I have in my mind those poor girls still trying to get an education. While efforts to provide schooling for girls have largely failed (less than 1/3 of Afghan girls attend school), under the Taliban that number goes to 0. And to top this off, the status of all women now is reduced to less than slavery.
    A Greek flipping tragedy. So much waste, so many young lives lost, for nothing. To have our government put a smile on this agreement is insulting.

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    1. The Iran nuclear deal was not "horrible" and it successfully kept Iran from pursuing a nuclear weapon for several years. It was opposed by Trump and the Republicans because it was from the other party, not any actual objective reasons.

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  • This seems incredibly bad. Wow.

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  • Sure it's a bad deal. However such an inevitable scenario was the flaming bag of dog-poo each administration left on the doorstep of its successor for going on 18 years now. We'll see if those troops actually get pulled out or just moved around the region.

    Meanwhile, we have to manage the fallout, so it's probably a good time to buy stock in General Atomics, Raytheon, and Lockheed Martin.

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  • This article is dishonest and no surprise from our Weekly Standard alum. The deal requires that the Taliban deny use of Afghan soil to any group, including, and specifically mentioned, Al Queda, if said group is threatening the security of the United States. This effectively means that compliance with the accord would require the Taliban to expel Al Queda from Afghan soil if they are using it as a base of operations to threaten US security (ie. 9/11). This is a great thing for us. It’s a potentially good thing for Afghanistan. And ending the war is good for everyone.

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    1. Thanks for your comment Adam. Setting aside the unnecessary and unproductive ad hominem for the purposes of having a fruitful discussion. I quoted the document in the piece, that no “Taliban members, other individuals or groups, including al-Qaeda” will “use the soil of Afghanistan to threaten the security of the United States and its allies.” But how do we determine "compliance?" What are the measurement tools? Where can we read them? Is the elected Afghan government, to whom we paid billions of dollars, a US ally under the agreement? If the Taliban attacks existing Afghan government institutions, have they violated the deal? And what are the enforcement mechanisms?

      They're not in the agreement, which means either, a) they're in the secret addenda that haven't been shared with the American people, or, b) they don't exist and we're taking the Taliban's word.

      I'd argue that either answer means the deal is inadequate. You're free to disagree, obviously. But do it respectfully next time.

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      1. It does not matter what the words are in the agreement. The Taliban will never adhere to any agreement, any where, any time, on any planet.

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        1. Bingo.

          Given this: Everything the Trump Administration says to try to spin this deal is absolutely, positively insincere and deliberately misleading.

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      2. Steve, you’re right, I was disrespectful. I did not explain myself fully or clearly. I did not mean to imply an expectation of dishonesty from you. I meant that I was not surprised by your hawkish viewpoint - admittedly, I didn’t say that and shouldn’t have expected you or anyone else to read my mind. I do still find the article to be dishonest, but “inconsistent” would probably be a more apt term and certainly more defensible. Let me try again.

        The article explains that the Trump admin falsely claimed the deal would require the Taliban to break from al queda. As far as I can tell, this is untrue. The Taliban is required by the deal to expel al queda as long as they are a threat to US security. Exactly what that means and how we would enforce it’s violation isn’t explicitly spelled out, as your article states. This is not necessarily a bad thing. It means that the US can interpret it as broadly as we wish. We also get to enforce it how we wish. Historically, broken peace treaties are justifiable grounds for war, so it’s reasonable to expect any level of enforcement up to and including acts of war.

        Whether or not the new government is an ally of the US seems irrelevant. If they can’t maintain power in the country, then they are illegitimate. I think the deal assumes that the Taliban will retake governing power in the country. Should we care? As long as they are bound to expel groups that would threaten US security, I sure don’t care. Not from a US security standpoint anyway.

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        1. Hey Adam -- Thanks for this. It gives me a much better idea of your concerns. I suspect we'll end up agreeing to disagree on this one, but I think there's a case for flexibility on how to interpret the deal, as you suggest.

          I think such agreements are better with tight language and built-in verification and enforcement mechanisms, agreed to by all parties before signing. Then everyone knows what will and will not constitute violations and how they'll be enforced.

          I think it'll probably end up not being a close call, unfortunately, and the violations will be obvious and egregious. If the current Afghan government is a US ally -- and I believe it is -- then Taliban attacks on those officials and facilities will constitute a violation. Sadly, I think that's almost inevitable.

          On your first point - that the article's claim about the Trump administration promising a Taliban break from al Qaeda is untrue - I'd point you to two comments. The first is from Pompeo in September, and was included in the article: "In September, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that the U.S. had won 'a commitment from the Taliban that said they would break from al-Qaeda publicly and permanently...'" The second comes from Sec Pompeo's appearance on CBS News yesterday. "President Trump has allowed us to take the fight to the Taliban these last two years. And we have done so. It's why they, for the first time, have announced that they're prepared to break with their historic ally, al-Qaida, who they've worked with much the det- detriment of the United States of America. You can see, go read the document, the Taliban have now made the break. They've said they will not permit terror to be thrust upon anyone, including the United States, from Afghanistan."

          And: the Taliban promised they "would work alongside of us to destroy, deny resources to and have al-Qaeda depart from that place.”

          https://www.cbsnews.com/amp/news/transcript-mike-pompeo-on-face-the-nation-march-1-2020/

          What Pompeo promised in September -- a public and permanent break from the Taliban -- and is touting now -- a public break from the Taliban *and* Taliban help with American efforts to "destroy" al Qaeda -- is different than what's in the agreement: a promise from the Taliban not to allow al Qaeda and other groups to threaten the US from Afghan soil (or fundraise, provide passports, etc).

          He's claiming the Taliban promised to do much more than the Taliban promised to do. (And, again, I'm skeptical they'll do much of this at all w/o enforcement terms and mechanisms.)

          Anyway, long response. But I'm very glad you circled back on this. I have a better sense of where you're coming from and I hope I've given you a better sense of mine.

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          1. Thank you to The Dispatch for this analysis. Based on everything we know about the Taliban how can any right-thinking individual believe this is going to end well. This will be bad for the Afghani's soon and bad for the United States, eventually.

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        2. Even if we assume that not specifying enforcement mechanisms will give us broader ability to respond how we wish (which I find slightly dubious), we will still have to rely on the Taliban's word to know whether or not they are complying. Dismantling our military and intelligence presence in Afghanistan will make it infinitely harder for us to independently verify compliance, and we know for a fact that the Taliban have been lying for years about their ties to AQ (Thomas Jocelyn has detailed that pretty extensively elsewhere on The Dispatch)

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  • "I believe it is peace in our time."

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    1. Didn't even see your comment before I posted mine. I had the exact same thought.

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