Americans could be forgiven for suspecting that the war in Afghanistan will never truly end. It has been raging – or, at times, simmering – for nearly two decades and it has cost the lives of more than 2,400 Americans. President Donald Trump vowed to end it and many have, for three years, wondered when and how he would make good on that pledge. Perhaps, the beginning of the end came Feb. 29 as the U.S. signed a deal with the Taliban that includes the withdrawal of U.S. forces, a large-scale prisoner exchange between the Taliban and the Afghan government, and negotiations between the two parties.
Following the Sep. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the U.S. mainland, the Taliban – rulers of Afghanistan at the time – were swept away by a U.S. military invasion but were never totally destroyed. Not for the first time, American political leadership had unleashed the nation’s military might without a firm resolve to inflict total defeat upon the enemy. Thus, the war dragged on through the Bush and Obama years, claiming more and more lives for, seemingly, no reason at all.
While Trump has been consistent in his view that the war must be brought to an end, his resolve has been in doubt: early in his presidency, the commander in chief virtually doubled America’s military presence in the country and there seemed little hope that the U.S. could extricate itself from this conflict with an enemy so entirely outmanned and outgunned but so ruthlessly implacable.
For sure, the U.S. had the power to destroy the Taliban totally – or, at least, its Afghan branch – but the political will was never there. What the conflict was supposed to achieve, then, was never made entirely clear to the American people. Perhaps, it was never made clear to the military, either.
After some 18 months of up-and-down negotiations, however, the U.S. may finally be on the verge of disengaging itself. The new agreement commits the U.S. and its allies to a total withdrawal within 14 months. The first stage of that, to be completed within 135 days, will be the drawing down of American numbers to the “pre-Trump” level.
“The only responsible way to end the war in Afghanistan is through a negotiated political settlement. Today is a reflection of the hard work of our Nation’s military, the U.S. Department of State, intelligence professionals, and our valued partners. The United States is committed to the Afghan people, and to ensuring that Afghanistan never becomes a safe haven for terrorists to threaten our homeland and our Allies.”
The complete withdrawal of American forces will likely leave the Afghan government at the mercy of the Taliban but, at this point, many Americans may be wondering if preventing that is worth even one more American life – especially since the leadership in Afghanistan has not exactly been a reliable partner.
On the domestic front, bringing an end to U.S. involvement in that country – if this is now what happens – will be a huge political victory for President Trump as he ramps up his re-election campaign. As much as his political enemies will try their best to pour cold water upon this achievement, they can hardly make a case against ending this war, of which the entire nation – on both sides of the political divide – has grown weary.
Read more from Graham J. Noble.