A peace agreement between the United States and the Taliban was signed conditionally on Saturday in the Qatari capital of Doha. The Trump administration has agreed to reduce its military presence in Afghanistan under the condition that the Taliban agree to stop assisting al Qaeda and other terrorist groups in the region and commence negotiations with the Afghan government by 10 March 2020. If the conditions are met, the 12,000-13,000 U.S. troops currently serving in Afghanistan will reduce down to 8,600 within the next four to five months, and all NATO troops will withdraw within 14 months. Although the treaty marked a historic milestone in the prolonged peace seeking process in Afghanistan, the conditions required of the Taliban have seldom been met. U.S. policy makers and military officials remain wary of the drastic troop reduction due to the conditions surrounding the withdrawal of troops in Iraq in 2011. During Obama’s presidency, the Obama administration withdrew all troops other than embassy staff, and approximately 4,000 to 5,000 defence contractors. Within three years, American troops were back. The rise of ISIS in Iraq created a new international terrorist threat and the U.S. was forced to redeploy a large number of troops back into Iraq.
The treaty has been met with criticism from all players involved in the Afghan conflict. In order to build support in Congress for ending the war effort in Afghanistan, the Trump administration is releasing secret documents related to the peace agreement. But members of Congress are still skeptical of the agreement. Many members are reluctant to implement the treaty, but after 19 years of U.S. military engagement in Afghanistan, most are anxious to see the conflict end by any means. House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman, Elliot Engel stated, “I think we’re taking a big chance, but I think it’s something we have to explore because this war is never-ending, and I don’t really want us to go into perpetual war, like everything else, there are mixed feelings. You don’t want our enemies to feel like they drove us out. On the other hand, you don’t want to never leave. I’m glad we’re working on it at least.” On the Senate floor on Monday, Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell said that after 20 years in Afghanistan two goals should be clear. The first being “We [the U.S.] should welcome any serious opportunity to bring greater stability to this land,” and the second, “We must make certain that the progress won through great sacrifice by Afghans and Americans is not undermined by any precipitous rush for the exits.” American policymakers are clear that they want to end U.S. involvement in Afghanistan but are also worried that the treaty is a rushed effort to pull out troops and that the plan can easily unravel to create a new set of problems in the country after NATO forces leave.
There is a very real threat that the Taliban will continue to militarize and support terrorist networks after U.S. troops leave. Bad faith of the Taliban is already apparent as fighting has already broken out between the Taliban and Afghan Security Forces since the treaty was signed. In addition to the fighting, the Taliban has already rejected peace talks with the Afghan government until the Afghans agree to release 5,000 Taliban prisoners. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, whose government had no involvement in the peace agreement, has rejected the Taliban’s demands, stating, “The reduction in violence will continue with a goal to reach a full ceasefire, there is no commitment to releasing 5,000 prisoners.” On Monday, the Taliban attacked Afghan Security Forces in Khost Province, killing three people and wounding 11, marking the end of the long period of peace between the two sides which originally paved the way for the peace agreement. The Taliban indicated in a statement on Monday that until an agreement between the two sides is met, the Taliban will resume its offensive against Afghan Security Forces. One of the conditions of the agreement includes a seven-day reduction in violence, which was already broken within 48 hours of the treaty. The Taliban has until 10 March to initiate peace talks with the Afghan government; a condition that seems improbable considering the immediate fighting that broke out less than two days after the finalized agreement.
The stigma surrounding the war in Afghanistan among the American public is a large contributor to the seemingly rushed peace agreement. Frustrated Americans will welcome the treaty regardless of the terms due to the public perception that the American military “failed” and that it is time to end the “endless war.” The agreement might have benefitted the Trump administration’s legacy going into the 2020 election cycle, as it is seen as the first major effort to end the war in a long time. The raw makeup of the agreement itself makes it easy to question how effective it will be within the next year. The Taliban has already broken the primary clause of the agreement when its fighters attacked Afghani security forces and will likely break the second clause if it fails to engage in peace talks with the Afghan government. Only time will tell if the treaty’s effectiveness will produce viable results. Until those results are materialized, it is too early to tell if the agreement will last and finally end the “endless war,” or whether it will create a power vacuum similar to the one created in Iraq when U.S. troops left during the Obama administration.