Trump touts Taliban deal ahead of signing
President Trump on Friday touted a “powerful path” to ending the nearly 19-year war in Afghanistan ahead of the United States and the Taliban signing a deal to start the withdrawal of U.S. troops.
“Soon, at my direction, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will witness the signing of an agreement with representatives of the Taliban, while Secretary of Defense Mark Esper will issue a joint declaration with the government of Afghanistan,” Trump said in a statement Friday.
“If the Taliban and the government of Afghanistan live up to these commitments, we will have a powerful path forward to end the war in Afghanistan and bring our troops home,” he added.
The United States and the Taliban are expected to sign an agreement Saturday in Qatar after a seven-day “reduction in violence” period that U.S. officials have deemed largely successful.
The agreement would begin a U.S. troop withdrawal, starting with a drawdown from 12,000 currently in Afghanistan to 8,600. The remaining troops would focus on counterterrorism against ISIS and al Qaeda, and any drawdown below that, officials insist, will be based on conditions on the ground.
In exchange for the drawdown, the Taliban is to provide assurances it will not allow Afghanistan to be used as a launchpad for terrorist attacks against the West.
The deal will also kickstart intra-Afghan negotiations to reconcile the Afghan government and the Taliban, a vital stage rife with potholes that could cause the entire deal to fall apart.
In his statement Friday, Trump framed the agreement as a fulfillment of his campaign promise to end America’s longest war.
“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. “We are making substantial progress on that promise.”
Trump also urged the Afghans to “seize this opportunity for peace and a new future for their country.”
“These commitments represent an important step to a lasting peace in a new Afghanistan, free from al Qaeda, ISIS, and any other terrorist group that would seek to bring us harm,” he said. “Ultimately it will be up to the people of Afghanistan to work out their future.”
Trump also thanked the U.S. troops who have served in Afghanistan, saying that “these agreements are a result of the strenuous efforts of those who fought so hard in Afghanistan for the United States of America.”
Lawmakers remain cautious about the Taliban deal, with many arguing the intra-Afghan talks to come will be the hardest part and that a real peace is impossible without such reconciliation.
Others, including Trump’s GOP allies, have warned the Taliban is not to be trusted. Earlier this week, 22 House Republicans sent a letter to Pompeo and Esper, as well as a copy to Trump, expressing “serious concerns” with the deal.