By Alexa Greenwald
The peace agreement that was signed this past Saturday between the United States and the Taliban is a shameful admission of defeat for the United States. After 18 years of war, $975 billion spent, over 150,000 deaths, and tens of thousands displaced, the US has finally conceded. The most powerful military in the world was unable to achieve its goal: to defeat the Taliban and Al Qaeda and develop Afghanistan to the point that it wouldn’t serve as a haven for terrorism. The US government itself estimates that that the number of insurgents in Afghanistan has quadrupled over the course of the war: from an estimated 15,000 in 2008 to 60,000 in 2018; the ISIS presence in Afghanistan has grown up to 3000; and the last two years were the deadliest since 2009. These numbers alone disprove the illusion of a successful military campaign.
Years of conflict and civilian deaths spurred more Afghans to join Taliban ranks, while the rest of the population was left dependent on the hope that the Americans and the Afghan forces they supported, would prevail. They have not. The Taliban are in control of more territory than at any point since 2001 and have just emerged the victor in negotiations with the enemy they have fought for over 20 years. The Taliban’s bloody campaign to force American and coalition forces out of Afghanistan has succeeded. Now it is the Afghan people left to deal with the consequences.
The Trump administration, unsurprisingly, is eager to present this deal as a US win, but closer examination of the agreement reveals US capitulation to the Taliban’s key demands and a subtle yet total abandonment of the Afghan people. One week from today, the US has agreed to release up to 5000 Taliban prisoners. The same day the intra-Afghan dialogue is scheduled to start. It is not difficult to see how this might tip the scales in the Taliban’s favour, not to mention strain the country’s already fragile security. The agreement only requires the Taliban to ensure these prisoners do ‘not pose a threat to the security of the United States and its allies’, with no mention of their conduct within Afghanistan. The US has agreed to work to remove Taliban members from the UN Security Council sanctions list by March 29, 2020.
Only nine days into what is highly likely to be complex and protracted intra-Afghan negotiations. With these two commitments, the US indicates they are willing to give up their bargaining leverage quickly. Which is most significant when it comes to the ceasefire: the most important component of this deal for the millions of civilians that have endured over 40 years of consecutive war. The language used in the US-Taliban deal is heart-wrenchingly weak, ‘A permanent and comprehensive ceasefire will be an item on the agenda of the intra-Afghan dialogue and negotiation’. But with the US so clearly eager to make a fast exit, in the Trumpian spirit of ‘getting the deal done’, what certainty is there that the US is committed to seeing an intra-Afghan settlement through? To ensure that this item on the agenda will result in peace? To demonstrate that there is US diplomatic and military muscle willing to be flexed if violence breaks out?
The conditions for the US upholding its side of the agreement, namely withdrawing entirely from Afghanistan, are primarily dependent upon the Taliban ensuring the safety and the security of the United States. Not ensuring a stable Afghanistan. Sadly, the US has finally made it clear what many have suspected all along: that America was fighting this war only to serve its own interests. Now that the political climate in the US has turned, and presidential candidates stand to gain from withdrawing, its interests have changed. And the US will serve those interests regardless of the cost to the Afghans they pledged to help.
My fellow Americans, instead of swallowing the same narrative that has been pushed in the wake of Vietnam and Iraq, let’s look beyond the thinly veiled curtain of empty words and see this for what it is: another military and moral failure. In truth, we, as Americans, should be deeply ashamed. And accepting this shame as a nation is imperative to avoid making the same mistake in the future.
Alexa Greenwald, alumna of LSE IDEAS (The London School of Economics’ foreign policy think tank, and #1 university affiliated think tank in the world)