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Thomas Gallatin / Sep. 9, 2019

Trump Tells Taliban Negotiators to Rethink It

The president struggles to find an acceptable avenue to end the 18-year war in Afghanistan.

Over the weekend, Americans learned that President Donald Trump had planned a secret meeting with Taliban leaders at Camp David to continue negotiations toward ending the 18-year war in Afghanistan. After he announced that he had decided to cancel the meeting, Trump explained:

[Taliban leaders] were going to secretly meet with me at Camp David on Sunday. … Unfortunately, in order to build false leverage, they admitted to an attack in Kabul that killed one of our great great soldiers, and 11 other people. I immediately cancelled the meeting and called off peace negotiations. What kind of people would kill so many in order to seemingly strengthen their bargaining position? They didn’t, they only made it worse! If they cannot agree to a ceasefire during these very important peace talks, and would even kill 12 innocent people, then they probably don’t have the power to negotiate a meaningful agreement anyway. How many more decades are they willing to fight?

Clearly, Trump, like many Americans, is tired of the unending war in Afghanistan. He has regularly noted not only the war’s financial cost but its continued toll in American lives. While we have succeeded in dealing severe blows to Islamist extremists in the region, that has come at a cost of 2,296 American lives and 20,543 injured, and an expense of $892 billion. The 14,000 American troops now in Afghanistan are far less likely to accomplish more than the 100,000 troops we had there in 2010.

Like the businessman that he is, Trump’s instinct is to cut his losses on a seemingly futile endeavor and reallocate our military assets where they are better applied in the interest of our national security. But evaluating a just return for all the human and financial capital the U.S. has expended is not easily calculated or dismissed. That said, this war needs a clearly defined goal.

And that lack of a clearly defined objective is why both Trump and Barack Obama struggled in bringing about an acceptable resolution to the war. The Wall Street Journal reports, “Trump’s decision to suspend talks with the Taliban stemmed from opposing views within his administration, the group’s refusal to meet certain conditions and growing bipartisan criticism of an emerging deal to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan.” Trump’s advisers are divided over the issue, with National Security Advisor John Bolton “consistently opposed [to] making a deal with the Taliban.”

The proposed deal would have brought about a 5,000-troop withdrawal within the first 135 days following its signing, with the remaining 9,500 Americans drawing down in several subsequent phases, assuming the Taliban upheld the agreement.

For the moment, the current Afghan government is breathing a sigh of relief, as Afghan officials’ fears were mounting that the U.S. was about to sign a deal that would have effectively handed the country over to the Taliban. A spokesman for Afghan President Ashraf Ghani noted that Trump’s decision “reflects the concerns raised by the Afghan people and government about a process that would make a group that is behind the killings of so many innocent people, both Afghans and otherwise, look victorious, rather than lead them to halt violence.” There is still no end in sight for the Long War against Jihadistan.

(Updated.)

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