What the U.S. and Taliban Must Get Right on Negotiations in Afghanistan

What the U.S. and Taliban Must Get Right on Negotiations in Afghanistan
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, center, speaks to U.S. peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, third left, at the presidential palace in Kabul, Jan. 28, 2019. (Photo by the Afghan Presidential Palace, via AP)

If there’s still any question about whether President Donald Trump will actually deliver on his promises to “get out” of Afghanistan, the answer seems simple after this week. No, Trump won’t, not while he remains convinced that he could win the war there in 10 days by killing 10 million people and wiping Afghanistan “off the face of the earth.”

Trump’s statement, made in a stomach-churning Oval Office meeting with Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan on July 22, may have been shocking, but it wasn’t all that surprising. After 19 years at war, the bumbling that has passed for U.S. policy in Afghanistan has long been all too clear. A little more than six months into Zalmay Khalilzad’s tenure as the latest U.S. envoy in Kabul, it’s time for a cold-eyed and sober assessment of where negotiations with the Taliban stand and where they are likely to head over the next year.

To hear the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, Gen. Austin Miller, tell it, there’s not much progress on Pentagon conditions for a clean American exit. This week, Miller repeated the timeworn assurance of his long line of predecessors that NATO and American forces remain focused on ensuring that Afghanistan doesn’t become a terrorist sanctuary again. Judging by the recent spike in suicide bombings and high rate of civilian casualties reported by the United Nations since Khalilzad was sent in to resuscitate negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban earlier this year, it doesn’t look like the U.S. is making much headway on that score.

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