Taliban officials announced Saturday that US negotiators in recent peace talks in Qatar agreed, in principle, to a draft peace deal to bring the fighting in Afghanistan to an end. According to the announcement all foreign troops, including American forces, will be out of Afghanistan within eighteen months. While the announcement was not formally confirmed by the United States, US special peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad did “tweet” that the recent six day talks with the Taliban had made “significant progress” and would resume shortly. Khalilzad added that he was enroute to Kabul to meet with Afghan government officials on the topic of peace negotiations.
According to multiple press reports the Taliban has provided assurances that Afghanistan will not be allowed to be used by al-Qaeda and Islamic State militants to attack the United States and its allies. The alleged deal also apparently includes a ceasefire provision, an agreement over the exchange and release of prisoners, the removal of a travel ban on Taliban leaders and unspecified terms concerning the creation of an interim government in Kabul after the ceasefire takes effect.
All this is potentially very good news. We are seventeen years into a war in Afghanistan, which began as a narrowly focused effort to retaliate for the 9/11 attacks and has morphed since into a ruinous, ill-advised nation building exercise with no end in sight. We cannot fight an endless war. Bringing this conflict to an end must be a priority.
But not at any cost.
On January 27, 1973 we signed the Paris Peace Accords. The treaty was intended to end the war in Vietnam. Signatories included the American government, South Vietnam, North Vietnam and the Provisional Revolutionary Government i.e. the Viet Cong.
A ceasefire was agreed upon, and all parties pledged that the South Vietnamese people would “decide themselves the political future of South Viet-Nam through genuinely free and democratic general elections under international supervision.” The reunification of Vietnam, all agreed, would be “carried out step by step through peaceful means.”
The ceasefire did not last a day. We withdrew. The North Vietnamese and their Communist allies in the south ignored the agreement’s provisions entirely. We made no meaningful response.
Two years after the signing of the peace treaty on April 30, 1975, North Vietnamese forces captured Saigon, the capital of South Vietnam. The last Americans were hastily withdrawn by air to waiting American naval vessels offshore. The Vietnam War ended in a decisive Communist victory and abject American defeat.
We have made a great number of mistakes over the last seventeen years in Afghanistan. Having defeated the Taliban and Al Qaida in a matter of months in 2001 and 2002, we should have installed a government pledged to prevent Afghanistan from ever again becoming a terrorist safe haven, made sure the members of that government understood that if they failed we would return and once again rain fire and brimstone on their heads, and then gone home.
Instead we embarked on a mad attempt to transform a country, which only arguably exists as a nation state in the first place, into some sort of European style, liberal democratic state complete with democratic elections, gender equality and Western style plumbing. We have paid a massive price for our hubris and for indulging the desires of the military-industrial complex to cover the globe with bases, infrastructure projects and the legions of contractors necessary to build and maintain them. It is long past time for us to regain our focus, put our national interest front and center and remember why we went to Afghanistan in the first place. We are not there to transform a 12th century patchwork of tribes, warlords and clans into a modern nation. We are there to ensure that when we depart we will not leave behind a vacuum which will be transformed into a launching pad for attacks on our soil. Period.
None of this will be accomplished by a precipitous departure. None of the mistakes we have made will be rectified by capitulation. No matter how many missteps we have made to date, we will only make matters worse by flight. As tired as we are of war, signing a meaningless agreement which lasts only as long as it takes our troops to depart will only guarantee more war. Many years ago, the loss of our soldiers during the “Black Hawk Down” operation in Mogadishu served as a rallying cry for Islamic extremists around the world, who took heart in the idea that we could be defeated in battle. If we are perceived to have run from Afghanistan it will be like pouring jet fuel on the fire of jihad across the planet.
We need to bring the Afghan war to a close. We need to restore sanity to our efforts there. We need to send home the bureaucrats and conventional military officers, put the war back in the hands of people who understand how to fight and win in dirty, dangerous, distant backwaters. We need to do a great many things.
Surrender is not among them. News that we may be close to a peace deal is welcome. Now we need to see exactly what that means. The devil will be in the details.