Accord sees foreign troops leaving Afghanistan within 14 months—if the Taliban open dialogue with Kabul, help restrain terror groups
After nearly two decades of conflict following the 9/11 terror attacks, the United States and the Afghan Taliban signed an accord on Saturday amid hopes that it will lead to the end of Washington’s longest war.
Signed in Doha, where the Taliban have a diplomatic office, the deal envisages the United States and its foreign partners withdrawing all troops from Afghanistan within 14 months—so long as the Taliban fulfill pledges to open a dialogue with the West-backed Kabul government and aid in fighting against jihadist groups such as Al Qaeda.
“The other side’s tired of war. Everybody is tired of war. [It has] been a particularly long and gruesome one,” U.S. President Donald Trump said in Washington, as he hailed the agreement. “We’ve had tremendous success in Afghanistan, in the killing of terrorists, but it’s time, after all these years, to go and to bring our people back home.”
The U.S. leader said American troops would exiting the war-torn state immediately. He added that he would soon meet with Taliban leaders personally—a previously scheduled meeting was abruptly cancelled after a U.S. soldier died last year in Afghanistan.
Supporters of the deal, which was signed after more than a year of fractious talks, say it marks a critical first step toward peace. But many Afghans, including President Ashraf Ghani, have voiced fears it could result in the insurgents ultimately returning to power.
“There is no doubt we have won the war… This [is] why they are signing a peace treaty,” chief Taliban negotiator Abbas Stanikzai said.
The deal was signed between the Taliban’s Mullah Baradar and Washington’s chief negotiator Zalmay Khalilzad. But even amidst the bonhomie, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo voiced uncertainty over the deal.
“Victory for Afghans will only be achieved when they can live in peace and prosper,” he said.
The Taliban swept to power in 1996 and were ousted by a U.S.-led invasion in 2001. America has spent over $1 trillion on fighting and rebuilding in the country since then, with about 2,400 U.S. soldiers killed in the fighting, along with tens of thousands of Afghan troops, civilians and Taliban fighters.
The wording of the accord has left many Afghans feeling like their hard-won freedoms will soon be at risk. Even the requirement for a “permanent and comprehensive ceasefire” was listed only as an agenda item—not a precondition—for future talks between Kabul and the Taliban, slated to begin March 10 in Oslo.
“Today is a dark day, and as I was watching the deal being signed, I had this bad feeling that it would result in their return to power rather than in peace,” Afghan activist Zahra Hussaini, 28, told AFP.
Afghan President Ghani, meanwhile, has welcomed the accord, saying that Afghans “have the political will and the capacity to make peace because of the resilience of our society, the dynamism of our economy and the capability of our state.”
Under the deal, the United States, which currently has between 12,000 and 13,000 troops in Afghanistan, will draw that number down to 8,600 within 135 days of the signing. If the Taliban abide by the terms of the accord, the United States and its partners “will complete the withdrawal of all remaining forces from Afghanistan” within 14 months, in a “conditions-based” pullback. The two sides also agreed to swap thousands of prisoners.
The Taliban’s pledge to guarantee Afghanistan is never again used by extremist groups such as Al Qaeda and the Islamic State group to plot terror attacks abroad is being seen as key to the deal’s durability. Its sheltering of Al Qaeda was the main reason for the U.S. invasion following the 9/11 attacks.