The peace deal with the Taliban does not guarantee that all U.S. troops will leave Afghanistan within the next 14 months.
Speaking to a Fox reporter in Afghanistan on Saturday, Defense Secretary Mark Esper called the 14-month timeline in the agreement “aspirational.”
Indeed, for the United States to withdraw all of its troops from Afghanistan, the Taliban would have to take steps that it has either been unable or unwilling to do in the past, such as breaking with Al Qaeda after more than 20 years and reaching a political accommodation with the Afghan government.
During a speech to troops in Kabul on Saturday, Esper made clear that the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan is contingent upon the Taliban living up to their agreements under the peace deal.
“All of our decisions moving forward are conditions-based and require the Taliban to maintain the ongoing reduction in violence,” Esper said. “If the Taliban fail to uphold their commitments, they will forfeit their chance to engage in negotiations with the Afghan government, and will not have a say in the future of this country.”
The unanswered question right now is this: What happens if the Taliban do not meet the conditions required for the U.S. military’s withdrawal from Afghanistan?
The Taliban appears confident they have secured a pledge from the U.S. government to leave Afghanistan, which – as the group’s deputy leader recently wrote for the New York Times – has been their goal all along.
Before they signed the peace agreement on Saturday, Taliban leaders celebrated victory over the United States, equating the agreement to earlier Afghan triumphs over the British and Soviets, Los Angeles Times reporter David Cloud tweeted.
If the Taliban feels it has already won, why should it make peace with the Afghan government or agree to fight terrorist groups?
For his part, President Donald Trump has said repeatedly that he wants to end the post 9/11 conflicts, which veterans have dubbed the “Forever Wars.” In his most recent State of the Union speech, the president once again pledged to withdraw all U.S. troops from Afghanistan.
“When I ran for office, I promised the American people I would begin to bring our troops home, and seek to end this war,” Trump said on Friday ahead of the peace deal being signed. “We are making substantial progress on that promise.”
Since the president has changed his mind more than once about whether to keep U.S. troops in Syria, it is unclear whether he would accept a delay in the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.