Two years ago, I had lunch with the president in the Oval Office, where we discussed the war in Afghanistan. I shared his frustration over the fact that he inherited a war that cost thousands of American lives and billions of dollars for a mission that was never well defined.
Over the last 18 years, the definition of a “win” for the United States has been ever changing and increasingly more complicated to understand. The definition of a “win” for the Taliban, however, has never changed, and it remains quite simple to understand: the complete withdrawal of all U.S. and allied troops and total Taliban control of Afghanistan.
Our soldiers, and those of our Afghan partners, have kept the Taliban from winning on the battlefield, at great cost.
However, I fear our diplomats at the negotiating table are about to give the Taliban a win that will cost the Taliban nothing. Worse, it could open the door to the Taliban winning everything in Afghanistan.
I have no doubt that Zalmay Khalilzad, the State Department’s special representative to Afghanistan, began negotiations with the Taliban in Doha on Saturday willing to find a compromise if it put us on a path to peace. The Taliban want U.S. troops to leave and the U.S. does not want to occupy Afghanistan. But getting the right deal is vital.
The right deal would allow the U.S. to withdraw its troops, leaving behind security measures and political guarantees to prevent al Qaeda and other jihadist organizations again operating out of Afghanistan. The path to a peace deal would also require a ceasefire to provide space for the Afghan government and Taliban to negotiate a compromise which might find ways for the Taliban to join the political system.
For the Taliban leadership though, even this simple framework is unpalatable. They resisted it through months of negotiations while holding out for more and more U.S. concessions, and they’ve resisted it because they’ve had to. After 18 years of telling their fighters to fight until the last American leaves, that their actions were religiously justified in order to reclaim the government from the “puppets,” to make ANY concessions would be seen as a betrayal, especially since after the last ceasefire they were barely able to get their fighters back into the trench.
After Khalilzad’s first meeting in Doha months ago, the Taliban representatives walked away smelling blood in the water, that he was desperate for a deal.
How could they not? The one major leverage the U.S. has is troop withdrawal, and Khalilzad unnecessarily put that on the table.
Taliban leaders then began to circulate a narrative of imminent victory: that by agreeing to negotiate so desperately, the Americans have accepted defeat and just want to withdrawal their troops safely, and because the Afghan government is entirely dependent on external support, the Taliban will easily topple it. The Taliban claimed that all the international attention they have received shows that they have been rehabilitated on the international scene.
This narrative has boosted Taliban motivation to fight through to the end.
Khalilzad has refrained from publicizing the contents of the deal which he says he is close to signing with the Taliban. However, knowing the Taliban negotiators can’t make any concessions on the required elements for real peace without risking an internal collapse of their movement, the only thing that can come out of this agreement will be worthless promises.
One can assume that as part of this “deal” the U.S. will offer a timeline to withdrawal a large number of troops and close bases. In return, the U.S. will receive — nothing. Nothing but promises that the Taliban have no intention of fulfilling. The Taliban will promise not to allow activities by foreign militant groups threatening U.S interests. The Taliban will promise to consider a ceasefire. The Taliban will promise to meet with an Afghan delegation and not make too much fuss about the presence of Afghan government figures. The Taliban would ask for prisoner exchange. And, possibly the most egregious flaw, the Taliban will NOT have to even denounce al Qaeda as part of the deal.
This isn’t a deal, Mr. President, this is a surrender. It’s one that will be seen as nothing less than a victory for the jihadists.
The Taliban will announce that they have defeated the U.S. and won the war. The Taliban military will be unrestrained by any ceasefire clause. Fighter morale will be boosted by the news that the U.S. is defeated and withdrawing, step up the fight and start to topple bases.
Within months of this “deal” in return for Taliban promises, we could see the start of the unravelling of the Afghan government. Collapse of morale, individual soldier defections, drying up of recruitment, increased collaboration and eventually mass defections of entire Afghan army units. Billions of dollars of U.S. supplies will be handed over to the Taliban. Come up with an inventory of everything that has been provided to the Afghan military, and it will be supplied in bulk to the Taliban, and then to every jihadi group in the region.
Al Qaeda will be a key beneficiary of the shift of balance of power between the government and Taliban. Already stationing fighters in safe havens and waiting for Taliban expansion, al Qaeda is poised to portray itself as the victor in the long struggle against the U.S.
Afghan government collapses, Taliban regain the dominant foothold, al Qaeda re-emerges and claims the largest Jihadi victory since defeating the Russians.
During our lunch, the president told me he thought one of his predecessor’s worst decisions was pulling out of Iraq too soon, which allowed the Islamic State to rise. Please, Mr. President, don’t make the same mistake he did.
The president made a promise to get us out of Afghanistan. He can still reduce the troop levels to the lowest they’ve been in 17 years, reduce the costs and keep this disaster from occurring. We’re not in the nation-building business anymore, but we must take the fight to the terrorists who mean us harm.
We don’t need this deal to do that. No deal is better than a bad deal.
Mr. President, I implore you to instruct Khalilzad to stop giving things away for nothing and be prepared to walk away from the table in Doha — that alone will be a loss for the Taliban, and it will regain our most important piece of leverage.
Ben Collins (@BenCollins1776) is a decorated U.S. Army Green Beret who completed multiple combat rotations in the War on Terrorism.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.