Could a Peace Deal with Taliban in Afghanistan End America’s Longest War?

Interview with Mel Goodman, senior fellow at the Center for International Policy, conducted by Scott Harris

President Trump, having survived his Senate impeachment trial, is now fully engaged in his re-election campaign. And while the president’s supporters celebrate his domestic anti-immigrant policies and large tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, there’s very little in the realm of foreign policy that Trump can point to as landmark achievements. During his 2016 presidential campaign, Trump pledged to end “endless wars,” including America’s longest war in Afghanistan. But in 2017, Trump authorized the Pentagon to deploy nearly 4,000 more troops to Afghanistan.

Now six months after earlier peace talks were abandoned in Afghanistan, the administration has concluded an agreement with the Taliban for both sides to observe a seven-day period of “reduced violence” beginning on Feb. 22. If the seven-day pause in fighting is successful, a more formal ceasefire agreement would be signed on Feb. 29, followed by the withdrawal of some of the 13,000 U.S. troops now in Afghanistan.

More than 2,400 U.S. troops have been killed there and 20,000 wounded in the fighting. Over 100,000 Afghans have died in decades of war, while the Pentagon estimates the war has cost $737 billion. Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Melvin Goodman, a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy and an adjunct professor of international relations at Johns Hopkins University. Here, Goodman assesses the Trump administration’s chances for concluding a lasting peace agreement to end the 19-year long Afghan war.

MEL GOODMAN: I think the first thing that needs to be mentioned is that this is essentially the same plan that the United States was moving toward in the summer of 2019 when Trump hoped to have a meeting with the Taliban leadership at Camp David around the anniversary of 9/11. And of course, Trump’s advisers were just appalled at the idea of bringing the Taliban into Camp David around 9/11, the anniversary of that terrible attack in Washington in New York. John Bolton particularly was extremely vociferous. And finally at the last minute, they talked Trump out of any discussion with the Taliban at Camp David.

So what you have now is essentially a renewal of that agreement. And it’s interesting that the seven-day period is not being referred to as a cease-fire. It’s kind of interesting the language they’ve used.They call it a reduction in violence.

So it’s certain military means will still be continued, but the basic attacks by the United States against the Taliban and the Taliban against the Afghan government have been halted thus far. And if this continues for a few more days on the 29th of February, you will have the signing of this treaty. But then the serious negotiations will really begin because we haven’t had the face-to-face talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government. And remember, the Afghan government itself is a shaky proposition. They had their election in September and they essentially took about five months to announce the results of that election with (Ashraf) Ghani getting something like 50.6 percent of the vote to avoid a runoff against (Abdullah) Abdullah, his major opponent.

So you have a very weak Afghan government. You have the United States essentially negotiating with one foot out the door. I mean, let’s be honest. People are saying, this is not a fig leaf, this disagreement, but I think it is a fig leaf. We want out. Trump definitely wants out of Afghanistan. We shouldn’t have been there beyond our defeat of al Qaeda in December of 2001, which we did with fewer than 500 troops from October to December. At that point, we should have turned the keys over to the government. But the major mistake we made at that time — and this was the Bush administration — but the Obama administration continued that same mistake, which is to equate the Taliban with al Qaeda. The Taliban early on was interested in pursuing negotiations with the United States, but we equated the Taliban with the terrorist organization of al Qaeda, and that was a huge mistake.

So now the Taliban and the Afghan government, will have to get together. The Taliban will have to recognize that they can’t harbor terrorist groups in their country that will try to target the United States or the West in general, which was what the previous Taliban government was doing and ignoring the al Qaeda presence. There’s going to be a major difference. I think if I read the outline of the agreement correctly, the United States is still talking about keeping a small counter-terrorism force in Afghanistan.

The Taliban are talking about all foreign forces leaving. So it remains to be seen how many troops remain. The first wave will include a withdrawal of say 5,000 troops of the 13,000 that are there, leaving still about 8,000 troops in place. And already the mainstream media – I know my paper here in Washington, the Washington Post has called the agreement a strategic disaster. I think this is a particular nonsense because there is nothing strategic about our interest in Afghanistan. We have no strategic interest in Afghanistan. The important interest that we had, we took care of very early on in the last few months of 2001. The fact that we’ve been there for virtually two decades is outrageous when you consider the fact that Afghanistan has no real interests, let alone vital interests which really should be brought into play, if you’re going to commit your own forces. This is a country that its neighbors should have to worry about, particularly Iran, Pakistan, and China. It shouldn’t be our concern.

Goodman’s most recent book is titled, AmericanCarnage: The Wars of Donald Trump. For more information on the Center for International Policy, visit internationalpolicy.org. Visit Mel Goodman’s CIP website at internationalpolicy.org/melvin-goodman.

 

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