The Afghanistan Peace Talks Were Rocky From the Start
Among the problems with Pompeo’s narrative is that it concerned a militant group that the Trump administration has bargained persistently with through 15 previous killings of American soldiers this year alone. The Taliban has killed and wounded thousands of U.S. troops over the past couple of decades. According to the latest statistics, it was responsible for three-fourths of deaths from terrorist attacks in Afghanistan, and one-fifth of terrorism-related deaths worldwide, in 2017. “What kind of people would kill so many in order to seemingly strengthen their bargaining position?” the president inquired on Saturday. Precisely the kind of noxious folks, as Trump must know, whom his negotiators have been huddling with in Qatar for more than a year now.
In truth, Trump’s cancellation of the Camp David meeting and suspension of peace talks reflect a reality that was evident well before a bomb detonated near the vehicle of Sergeant First Class Elis Barreto Ortiz: The peace process and proposed agreement rest on an exceedingly shaky foundation. The writing for this move was on the wall, and this weekend the president essentially tweeted it out. The latest bout of bloodshed may have played some role in the actions Trump just took, but it is also a convenient out for an administration that had gone all in on a floundering initiative.
One of the expectations of any pact, for example, was that the Taliban would not only disown al-Qaeda, but also guarantee that its territory wouldn’t be used by jihadists to launch attacks against the United States. It’s far from clear that the Taliban would have been willing or able to enforce that condition, especially once the U.S. military fully withdraws from the country. Senior al-Qaeda figures are thought to be hiding out along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, where the Taliban is effectively a major power. As of this summer—mere months before Americans apparently came close to seeing Taliban leaders at the president’s storied country getaway in the run-up to September 11 commemorations—United Nations Security Council reports were describing the Taliban as the “primary partner” of al-Qaeda and all other foreign terrorist groups operating in Afghanistan except the Islamic State, and Afghanistan as a “continuing safe haven” for al-Qaeda’s leadership.
Then there’s the matter of whether the United States was really prepared to pull all its forces out of Afghanistan. Trump had announced plans to reduce the American military presence by 5,400 soldiers, but to keep more than 8,000 troops there indefinitely to ensure that the Taliban honored its commitments. That would have been close to the number in the country at the end of Barack Obama’s administration.