The Trump Administration Still Wants a Deal With the Taliban. Why?

It is no secret that the Trump administration is looking to withdraw more forces from Afghanistan, where there are reportedly 12,000 to 13,000 American troops stationed. There is mounting bipartisan pressure to extricate the U.S. from the so-called “endless wars.” And the president’s own desire to end, or at least greatly reduce, the American presence is well-known. But even if the goal is to withdraw from the Afghan war, it still matters how the U.S. goes about it.

Recently, White House national security adviser Robert O’Brien told Axios that while it is still possible the U.S. could do a deal with the Taliban, America’s military footprint may be reduced without one. “We’re working on it. But it has to be a good deal,” O’Brien said.

There’s just one problem: There is no good reason to think a good deal with al-Qaeda’s blood brothers can be had. After years of feckless on-again, off-again talks, the Taliban hasn’t shown any willingness to enter into true peace negotiations with the Afghan government. Instead, the jihadists are biding their time and extracting concessions from the Americans, whose time may be running out, while giving up little in return. 

Last year, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s team put together a draft accord in which the Taliban would act as America’s de facto counterterrorism partner. The State Department hasn’t been forthcoming when it comes to the specifics of this arrangement. But Special Representative Zalmay Khalilzad was quick to publicly endorse the Taliban’s supposed counterterrorism assurances. “The Taliban have committed, to our satisfaction, to do what is necessary that would prevent Afghanistan from ever becoming a platform for international terrorist groups or individuals,” Khalilzad told the New York Times in January 2019. Although Khalilzad said the details still had to be worked out, the State Department was curiously eager to treat the Taliban as a responsible stakeholder.

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