29 February 2020   Leave a comment

The US, Afghanistan, and the Taliban have signed an agreement that some hope may lead to peace in Afghanistan. The agreement is the result of protracted negotiations between the US and the Taliban which have been conducted in Qatar. The text reflects the extraordinary dance all sides had to make in order to save face–the title of the text is convoluted: “Agreement for Bringing Peace to Afghanistan between the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan which is not recognized by the United States as a state and is known as the Taliban and the United States of America”. The language reflects the desire of the US not to create the illusion that the Taliban is equal in status to the government of Afghanistan.

The agreement was signed after a week-long “test” of the willingness of both the US and the Taliban to limit violence (it is not clear to me what a week-long hiatus means in the context of a war that has been going on for 19 years). The US has agreed to withdraw

“….all of its military forces and supporting civilian personnel, as well as those of its allies, within 14 months. The drawdown process will begin with the U.S. reducing its troop levels to 8,600 in the first 135 days and pulling its forces from five bases.

“The rest of its forces, according to the agreement, will leave “within the remaining nine and a half months.”

“The Afghan government also will release up to 5,000 Taliban prisoners as a gesture of goodwill, in exchange for 1,000 Afghan security forces held by the Taliban.”

Further:

“The U.S. intends, along with members of the United Nations Security Council, to ‘remove members of the Taliban from the sanctions list with the aim of achieving this objective by May 29, 2020’ — and Washington, in particular, aims to remove the group from U.S. sanctions by Aug 27, 2020….

“The Afghan government will also begin negotiations with the Taliban to map out a political settlement which would establish the role the Taliban would play in a future Afghanistan. These negotiations are expected to start next month. One of the first tasks in these intra-Afghan talks will be to achieve a lasting ceasefire in Afghanistan.”

The last point is important because the Taliban has refused to engage the Afghan government as long as US troops were in the country. Apparently, the commitment to withdraw was sufficient to induce the Taliban to consider changing its position.

There is considerable ambiguity in the agreement. The Taliban are supposed to cease working or communicating with al Qaeda, the group that led the attacks against the US on 11 September 2001 and was the target of the US invasion in October 2001. But one of the most important groups within the Taliban is one led by Sirajuddin Haqqani who is a deputy in the Taliban but also a member of al Qaeda.

There are some who believe that the agreement is nothing more than a face-saving way for the Trump Administration to get out of a war that was incredibly expensive and not very effective. The Taliban controls most of Afghanistan other than the immediate vicinity of the capital city, Kabul. And some conservatives in the US believe that the Taliban will not honor the agreement in much the same way that North Vietnam used the peace agreement with the US in 1973 as a prelude to its invasion of South Vietnam in 1975. Additionally, many do not believe that the agreement provides sufficient guarantees for the rights of women and girls in the country and that the Taliban will revert back to its oppression of women prior to 2001.

There is much to criticize in the agreement but one should not lose sight of one very important piece of evidence: the US has been fighting in Afghanistan for 19 years. The costs of the war as calculated by the BBC have been considerable:

“Since the war against the Taliban began in 2001, US forces have suffered more than 2,300 deaths and around 20,660 soldiers injured in action.

And according to the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (Unama), more than 100,000 civilians have been killed or injured since it began systematically recording civilian casualties in 2009.

“The US has spent on average $1.5m day – or nearly $9bn since 2002 until September last year – on anti-narcotics efforts, yet UN figures show that the total estimated area devoted to opium poppy cultivation reached a record high in 2017.

“In 2017, the US watchdog responsible for the oversight of reconstruction efforts said that as much as $15.5bn had been lost on “waste, fraud and abuse” over the past 11 years.

Indeed, the total spending on the wars associated with the “war on terror” since 2001 as estimated by researchers at Brown University is considerable: “The United States has appropriated and is obligated to spend an estimated $5.9 trillion (in current dollars) on the war on terror through Fiscal Year 2019, including direct war and war-related spending and obligations for future spending on post 9/11 war veterans”.

There is no evidence that these efforts have materially changed the security situation of the US in any meaningful way. Even if the current agreement with the Taliban is fundamentally flawed, it is accurate to say that the policy of seeking a peace through military action was a fool’s errand.

Posted February 29, 2020 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

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