When I wrote about the proposed peace deal with the Taliban last month, I’ll confess that I took a rather dismal, Eeyore approach to our prospects for success. It’s seemed obvious for some time that the Taliban is doing what the natives in Afghanistan have always done when foreign powers overrun their territory. They wait for the foreigners to go home because they always do, sooner or later. And being essentially little more than a terrorist organization themselves, the Taliban can’t be trusted to keep their word on anything unless it directly serves their interests.
As it turns out, we’ve been busy gathering intelligence on what the Taliban is up to these days. And it should come as no surprise that the United States is already aware that the Taliban leadership has no intention of keeping their promises. (NBC News)
The U.S. government has collected persuasive intelligence that the Taliban do not intend to honor the promises they have made in the recently signed deal with the United States, three American officials tell NBC News, undercutting what has been days of hopeful talk by President Donald Trump and his top aides.
“They have no intention of abiding by their agreement,” said one official briefed on the intelligence, which two others described as explicit evidence shedding light on the Taliban’s intentions.
Trump himself acknowledged that reality in extraordinary comments Friday, saying the Taliban could “possibly” overrun the Afghan government after U.S. troops withdraw.
Taliban leaders in Pakistan flatly told reporters that they believe this peace deal represents the United States “recognizing” them officially. And with that in mind, once our troops are gone, they plan to ask the current, American-backed government to “accept us and give us our country peacefully.” There was no need for him to expand further into what would happen if they didn’t immediately surrender.
The big question on the table is what if any impact this information should have on our plans moving forward. I’m sure some people found President Trump’s comments a bit on the brusque side when he said “countries have to take care of themselves,” and “you can only hold someone’s hand for so long.” But the fact is that he’s got a point. We can’t realistically be expected to stay there forever.
And yes, as I acknowledged before, we’re violating the Pottery Barn rule if we do this. (You break it, you bought it.) But the Taliban were in charge and running an oppressive, 7th-century style government there when we arrived. For the past 18 years, the people of Afghanistan have at least had the chance to see what living under an elected and at least somewhat less oppressive government looks like. If that’s what they truly want, they can fight back against the Taliban.
Perhaps the focus now should be to take the expected chaos our troop withdrawal will trigger for granted as if it’s baked into the cake already. What we need to avoid at all costs is another “fall of Saigon” situation, where the last of our troops are scrambling to get away as the Taliban fighters move in. Also, we don’t want to strand those who assisted us and leave them to be killed off. I’m referring specifically to the translators and informants who served us loyally with the expectation that we would be taking care of them. They should be moved out of the country well ahead of our major, final troop withdrawal, not as an afterthought.
We gave ourselves a black eye in Iraq when we left some of our translators and helpers behind. If the Afghanis in similar situations can’t be cleared to come to the United States, we should find some safe (or at least safer) third country where they can wait to be vetted for their eventual arrival in the United States, assuming they wish to come. I’m picturing someplace like Qatar, Egypt or Saudi Arabia. But beyond that, there’s only so much we can do. Afghanistan was never going to become America’s 51st state or some flowering bastion of freedom and democracy. It’s just not fertile ground for such a system to take root.
It’s time for our troops to come home. Afghanistan is going to be a mess when we leave, and we’re just going to have to be prepared for that eventuality. But let’s face it. Afghanistan was a mess when we arrived.