June 16, 2020
Pentagon officials have said the Taliban are not meeting key conditions of the withdrawal pact it signed with the United States nearly four months ago. Meanwhile, a recent UN report revealed that the insurgent movement is still in bed with al-Qaeda, violating – at least in spirit – one of the key promises the Taliban made to Washington. However, even if that is all true, President Donald Trump will do everything in his power to bring all U.S. troops home from Afghanistan well before the election in November.
Have we not, in these very pages, foreseen all of this? This really began when the Taliban sent sweet overtures to Trump in a letter almost three years ago.
“The gambit [letter to Trump] might represent the Taliban’s best chance for… inveigling the world’s greatest superpower into a wholesale drawdown – all by playing to one man’s vanity and dangling before him the deal of the century. Or, at least the best deal the United States has seen in around 16 years,” this writer said in an article published in AOP on August 16, 2017.
(This is neither the time nor place to list the other dozen or more times we foreshadowed this, largely based on the reckless audacity of America’s Great Leader).
According to The New York Times, at the end of May U.S. military officials developed withdrawal timelines for the president including an option to have all troops home by November.
When word spread that Trump was even contemplating this, scores of U.S. lawmakers in both parties were apoplectic. Senator Angus King, an independent, joined two members from the Democratic Party in co-writing a letter to incoming Director of National Intelligence, John Ratcliffe, demanding details on Trump’s new scheme.
King told Foreign Policy magazine that he is worried the Afghan government will be toppled by the Taliban and al-Qaeda will be “free to roam again,” if the U.S. rushes to the exit doors.
“The agreement that was signed in February was supposed to be conditions-based, and it appears now the administration, from published reports, is looking for calendar-based. The date I’ve heard is Election Day. That gets back to the basic motto of the Taliban, which is ‘you’ve got the watches, we’ve got the time,’” King said in an interview published on June 13.
On June 10, U.S. Central Command chief, General Kenneth McKenzie, hammered home a similar point during a virtual conference hosted by Washington’s Middle East Institute.
“Those conditions would be: Can we be assured that attacks against us will not be generated there? And as of right now … frankly, if asked my opinion, those conditions have not been fully met,” McKenzie said.
Also beside himself was Brookings scholar and former CIA official Bruce Riedel, who noted – probably accurately – that al-Qaeda is more embedded in the Taliban than ever. Then, Mr. Riedel posited the million-dollar question.
“Will the Trump administration ignore the facts about the Taliban and al-Qaida and proceed with the withdrawal of American troops and other personnel from Afghanistan, as outlined in the plan signed with the Taliban?” Riedel said on June 8.
The answer is likely, “yes.” Especially if one considers how the Trump administration looked the other way after serious allegations were made that the Haqqanis partnered with ISIS in last month’s attack on a maternity ward in Kabul.
The senator, general, and ex-spy are all wrong, however, in putting so much weight into the concept of “conditions-based” because the ambiguous wording of the deal renders it almost meaningless.
The February 29 “Agreement for Bringing Peace to Afghanistan” that was signed by U.S. and Taliban officials does not even contain the term “condition” and the clauses that could be interpreted as such provide wide spaces for wiggling.
The agreement calls on the Taliban to “take steps” to prevent al-Qaeda or any other groups from using Afghan soil to threaten the security of the United States and its allies. The deal also says the Taliban will “instruct” members not to cooperate with such groups.
The Long War Journal’s Thomas Joscelyn noted that this commitment is a version of the same assurance the Taliban issued in the 1990s, “when the group first lied” about the threat posed by al-Qaeda.
Moreover, even if the Taliban are not being forthright, how would anyone know?
“There is nothing in the publicly available text of the agreement about verification or enforcement mechanisms to ensure the Taliban isn’t lying now,” Joscelyn said in a post on June 15.
In short, U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad crafted an unenforceable deal with terms so ambiguous it would be difficult for the Taliban to violate. In fact, one would not know if the insurgents lived up to the deal until al-Qaeda uses Afghan soil to threaten the security of the United States and its allies.
In other words, the type of deal Trump could exploit to get U.S. troops home before November.