U.S. President Donald Trump delivered his third State of the Union Address to a bicameral session of Congress. The State of the Union is a speech delivered by the President early in the calendar year, where the President reports on the condition of the country. It also provides the President with a platform to outline his legislative agenda and national priorities for the upcoming year and beyond.
In this year’s address, President Trump renewed his pledge to negotiate a withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, saying that he is “not looking to kill hundreds of thousands of people…many of them totally innocent… We are working to finally end America’s longest war and bring our troops back home.” According to Reuters, Trump has long criticized the U.S. role in Afghanistan, often stating that “we’re not really fighting. We’re almost a police force over there. We’re not supposed to be a police force.” Approximately 13,000 American troops remain in Afghanistan according to the Wall Street Journal. The troops are responsible for training the Afghan security forces and conducting counterinsurgency operations against terrorist groups such as Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State’s local affiliate.
In a bid to reduce U.S. presence in Afghanistan, President Trump has attempted to diplomatically settle the war through discussions with the Taliban. However, the President last year abruptly cancelled an unannounced summit at Camp David because of an attack that killed an American. The Trump administration has maintained their willingness to conduct peace talks with the Taliban, a fact that is reinforced by Trump sending U.S. negotiator Zalmay Khalilzad to Qatar to continue the talks. Ultimately, the primary requisite condition for a peace agreement according to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is “demonstrable evidence of [the Taliban’s] will and capacity to reduce violence.”
Contrarily, the Taliban accuses the Americans of delaying talks. “Mr Pompeo should not shift the blame. Our stance is principled and united, and our policy is not shaky like the opposite side,” said Zabiullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman on WhatsApp. According to Aljazeera, the Taliban has recently proposed a limited reduction in violence, which could potentially trigger peace talks between the U.S., the Afghan government and the Taliban.
Aljazeera reported that a draft of Trump’s peace deal reveals a withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan, while the Taliban is expected to agree to not allow armed militants to use the country as a base. The peace plan will also require the Taliban to open a channel of dialogue with the western-backed government in Kabul. However, Reuters reports that experts fear a full withdrawal from Afghanistan will create a power vacuum in the country, which can potentially trigger a civil war that could see a return of Taliban rule. Furthermore, it would also provide Al-Qaeda and other related militant groups a sanctuary to expand and plan terror attacks on the U.S. and its allies. The President has agreed with experts on this previously, stating that “it’s a dangerous place and we have to keep an eye on it.” This implies that he intends on maintaining at least some military presence in Afghanistan in the foreseeable future since it is not abundantly clear if the Taliban can be trusted.
Ultimately, it is important to handle this situation with care. While a full withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan may foreshadow peace in the region by ending a seemingly unending conflict, there also exists the potential of triggering a civil war in Afghanistan. Even if the Taliban agrees to the U.S.’s terms in its peace deal, there will be nothing stopping them from completely disregarding the terms of the agreement. Therefore, it will be important for the Trump administration to build monitoring and enforcement mechanisms in his peace deal to ensure compliance, which will allow for an effective conclusion to this long, violent period of history in Afghanistan.
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