The Trump administration, anxious for some kind of a foreign-policy victory after repeated false starts, is moving toward a dangerous Afghan peace pact that would cede the country back to the very Taliban forces the United States vowed to vanquish in 2001.
What appeared to be an easily winnable war 17 years ago has turned into a quagmire. Taliban forces now control nearly 40 percent of the countryside. So President Donald Trump is correct to question the utility of a continued U.S. troop presence there. He must not ignore the disastrous consequences of a hasty U.S. withdrawal.
Trump has insisted he knows more than his generals. He dismisses his intelligence officials as "naive." The stakes are too high for him to insert his ego into Afghanistan as well. Americans must never forget that Afghanistan is where al-Qaida planned the deadliest domestic attack in U.S. history — with the Taliban as its host.
Multiple missteps by Trump's predecessors allowed the Taliban to regroup as a formidable fighting force after being crushed in 2001. As far back as 2013, Trump was on record favoring an unbridled, cut-and-run U.S. pullout. He now wants to halve the U.S. deployment to 7,000 troops.
In trying to extricate the United States from its longest war, Trump must not lay the groundwork for future catastrophe. He disregarded his generals' advice in Syria. He scoffed last week on Twitter when top intelligence officials disputed his pronouncements minimizing Islamic State's ongoing threat potential.
To his credit, Trump is letting special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad handle the Afghan negotiations with minimal interference or disruptive tweets. Khalilzad says he and Taliban leaders have reached a peace framework stipulating that Afghan territory will not become a future staging ground for attacks by international terrorist groups.
Both sides seem to assume the Taliban would return to power. The current U.S.-friendly government was excluded from negotiations.
Taliban governance bears frightening similarities to Islamic State's rule in Syria and Iraq: mass executions and gross abuse of women's rights. Under Taliban rule, women couldn't work; girls couldn't attend school. Music and videos were banned. Could the Taliban be trusted not to provide safe haven to Islamic State fighters?
The Taliban is resurgent because Afghans have minimal motivation to join the army and put their lives on the line to protect the notoriously corrupt and inept central government. Without a U.S. military presence, the democratically elected government's chances of survival would be nil.
Taliban leaders are certainly aware of Trump's impatience and are willing to say whatever the administration wants to hear just to be rid of the U.S. presence. Withdrawal under these circumstances would be no victory for America. And a bloodbath assuredly would await those who collaborated with Washington in the name of democracy.
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