U.S. Likely To Settle for Afghan Withdrawal Deal It Could Have Got 15 Years Ago

Early progress in U.S.-Taliban peace talks are a reminder of how little we're fighting for in Afghanistan.


Omar Sobhani/REUTERS/Newscom

The U.S. and the Taliban have agreed to a draft framework for a peace agreement that could pave the pay for a U.S. military withdrawal from the country, said the chief American envoy to the country.

According to a New York Times report from Monday, Zalmay Khalilzad—a U.S. special representative to Afghanistan—said that Taliban officials agreed to not host international terrorist organizations in the country. That, coupled with larger concessions, could lead to a full American military withdrawal.

"The Taliban have committed, to our satisfaction, to do what is necessary that would prevent Afghanistan from ever becoming a platform for international terrorist groups or individuals," Khalilzad told the Times. "We felt enough confidence that we said we need to get this fleshed out, and details need to be worked out."

U.S. officials have been in direct talks with Taliban officials since at least July 2018, repeating these interactions in October and December. The tentative framework coming out of this latest January meeting represents "the biggest tangible step toward ending a two-decade war," the Times reports.

It also a deal the U.S. could have gotten long ago and with much less bloodshed, says Cato foreign policy scholar John Glaser.

"The broad outlines of the peace deal that we are now negotiating could have been pursued back in 2001," Glaser tells Reason. "We really could have gotten out of Afghanistan a decade and a half ago if we didn't harbor ridiculous ambitions of we might accomplish in Afghanistan."

Those ambitions included an attempt to eliminate the Taliban as a political force in Afghanistan and establish a stable, democratic government in its place, Glaser says.

Despite 17 years of direct U.S. military involvement in the country—which has cost $900 billion and the lives of some 2,400 U.S. military personnel—these goals have proven elusive.

A late October report from the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR) found that the U.S.-backed Afghan government controlled just 56 percent of the country's administrative districts—down from 72 percent in 2015—and that while violent incidents as a whole were down, civilian deaths were increasing. It's estimated that over 31,000 Afghan civilians have been killed between 2001 and 2016.

Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani said recently that 45,000 Afghan troops had been killed since he assumed office in 2014, a large increase over the 28,000 that were previously thought to have died during that time.

President Donald Trump was highly critical of the U.S.'s war in Afghanistan while on the campaign trail, arguing that we had no business being in the country anymore. Shortly after assuming office, however, he was convinced to stay, and even increased the number of U.S. troops in the country by some 4,000.

In late December Trump appeared to reverse himself again, with officials saying he would cut the number of U.S. forces in the country in half, from 14,000 to 7,000.

The latest news about very preliminary steps suggests the administration is finally serious about withdrawal. Given how early it is in the process however, there are still plenty of opportunities for things to go wrong.

The Taliban has so far refused to recognize the legitimacy of the U.S.-backed government in Kabul, a major sticking point. The corrupt and enfeebled Kabul regime is also desperate for at least some U.S. forces to remain. Few presidents want to have a lost war on their record.

Nevertheless, that these talks are making progress and that the U.S. government appears willing to accept a complete withdrawal from the country—as opposed to leaving a small ground force behind—is encouraging, says Glaser.

He cautions, however, that policymakers and the public more broadly need to accept that Afghanistan, and whoever ends up controlling it, poses almost no threat to U.S. security.

Its status as an impoverished, far away country means it could never pose a conventional threat to U.S. security, and that its geographic isolation make it operationally useless as a place to hatch terrorist plots against the west.

"We have to make it clear to ourselves," Glaser says, "that a ground presence in Afghanistan doesn't protect us from terrorism."

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  1. In 2001, I figured we’d take the Taliban out then leave. Not sure what the point of “My Endless War” was.

    1. War is the health of the State.

      I have no idea what era that odd phrasing comes from, but the quote is as true as it ever was.

      1. It was coined by Randolph Bourne.

        The Randolph Bourne Institute seeks to honor his memory by promoting a non-interventionist foreign policy for the United States as the best way of fostering a peaceful, more prosperous world. It publishes the website

        1. Did he coin it or borrow it? I don’t mean the whole phrase, I mean that “health of” bit. I have never seen that phrase used anywhere else in any other context.

          1. Poor aalphabet troll.

    2. The only legitimate goal was capturing bin laden and neutralizing Al Quaeda.

      The Taliban was never a threat to the US. Other than a few punitive strikes to let them know that harboring forces hostile to the west would not be tolerated we had not reason to prefer any of the other kleptocrats over them.

      We have spent a lot of lives and money and all we have to show after eighteen years is a Taliban that is stronger than ever.

      However we leave, the Taliban will be back in power within two or three months of our departure.

      Of all the mischiefs that the foreign policy hawks have visited on us “regime change” has to be the most pernicious.

  2. Set up an election for the day all our troops leave.

    Then its on Afghanis to pick their future.

    The USA left a nation intact on the day of their national election.

    1. And just how do you believe America has the right or even capability of forcing an election on the Taliban. It’s just not going to happen.
      Best to just get the hell out while Trump is the president because once he is gone, it is unlikely any future president will stand up to the war hawks and America will still be in Afghanistan indefinitely.
      Hard to believe that Trump will leave behind a legacy of peace, though it is more likely he will be called an isolationist for withdrawing America from foreign wars.

  3. Afghanistan is a perfect example of getting into a war without being willing to do what is necessary to win. If you want to “win” in Afghanistan as in create a government that is pro western and keep the Taliban out of power, you need to defeat Pakistan. If you dont’ defeat Pakistan, you wil never defeat the Taliban because they will just run and hide and forever rebuild inside Pakistan. If you don’t want to go to war and defeat Pakistan, and you probably shouldn’t, you shouldn’t go to war to install a pro western government in Afghanistan. The failure to understand that fact is the root of all of our problems there.

    1. I agree with you on this and wonder why Pakistan perfers these Taliban assholes.

      1. Because Pakistan is largely an inbred shithole with a sizable portion of Islamic radicals and ruled by parallel governments?

        1. We could have invaded Pakistan when Banazir Bhutto was assassinated in 2007 if we wanted to defeat the Taliban. Shithole ever since.

  4. While I wholeheartedly agree to GTFO of that shithole,

    Its status as an impoverished, far away country means it could never pose a conventional threat to U.S. security, and that its geographic isolation make it operationally useless as a place to hatch terrorist plots against the west.

    I am sorry, where was 9/11 planned again?

      1. It was Afghanistan. The perps were Saudis but the planning and the organization was done in Afghanistan.

        1. By a Saudi and with Saudi support.

        2. Eh…you’re both right. The Saudis were big financiers of the whole project. Or we could ignore what nationality Bin Laden was

          1. Ah ah… Bin Laden was technically “stateless” when he planned 9/11 so his Saudi-ness is no longer an issue.

            1. But regardless, we still took out the peeps who planned it and the political structure that supported them. We have won. Time to come home.

              There are no good analogies because this is an unprecedented military invasion. It would be like still occupying Germany in 1964.

              1. We still were occupying Germany in 1964. And like Afghanistan, we were fighting a new enemy different from the one we came there to defeat.

        3. Fie, John !
          There are more ‘Stans than are dreampt of in thy theogeny.

    1. It was absolutely a threat to US security. And Bush massively fucked up not making the whole affair a pure mission of retribution. For all of the talk about Iraq, his handling of Afghanistan was by far Bush’s biggest fuck up. He refused to do the mission properly with US troops allowing Bin Ladin and those responsible for 9-11 to escape and then allowed our allies to take revenge on pretty much the entire country making it damn near impossible to set up a government in place of the Taliban. Bush and Rumsfled in particular screwed the pooch massively on that.

      1. They wanted Iraq. Everything else was secondary.

        1. Not really. Iraq was its own thing and was going to happen regardless. The first Gulf War is another example of going to war without fully understanding or being willing to do what was necessary to win. We couldn’t just remove Saddam from Kuwait and go back to the way things were. Doing so made a perminant enemy out of him. You either had to let him have Kuwait or take him out. There was no middle option where we kicked him out of Kuwait and didn’t have the mess of occupying Iraq. The US just pretended there was and spent 12 years in a low intensity war with Iraq only to have to invade anyway because the choices were accept him back into the international community and do all kinds of mischief or invade and end it. We should have just let him have Kuwait. What was he going to do with all that oil besides sell it to us? Drink it?

          1. And right after 9/11 was the perfect time to invade Iraq, or were you OK with using 3,000 dead as the excuse as well as being OK with the war?

            1. John didn’t say he was okay with the war, he said we should’ve not gone to war in 91 to defend Kuwait, but we did and that war never really ended until we took out Saddam.
              Of course, after we took out Saddam a new war started almost immediately because, like Jimmy Carter, Bush 2 was idealistic – he thought we should bless Iraq with democracy

              1. He was. It’s a wonder anyone reads his opinion about anything.

          2. In theory we could have kicked his ass, and then said “Now be a good boy, and we’re cool. But invade anybody again, or be TOO excessively mean to your people, and we’ll level your whole country and hunt you down like a dog.”

            And in a sane world where we were actually protecting a country we should give a shit about (which Kuwait really wasn’t anyway…), that should be doable.

            We have this weird idea nowadays that you can’t fight a war, kick some ass, set terms, and then return to regular relations almost immediately thereafter… But that’s how it has worked throughout much of history.

            Saddam would have been too scared to invade anybody again, and rightfully so.

            We shouldn’t have got involved at all, but the above was a theoretical possibility… People just don’t like to think like that nowadays for some weird reason.

            1. There was no real reason to invade Iraq in 2003. Saddam was boxed in and offered a counterweight to Iran. Even if WMD had been there, so what? Saddam couldn’t deliver them. I blame the Bush/Cheney/Colin Powell team, mostly Powell who should have known better since he was military.

              1. Powell was a big factor in why we had remained in the Middle East to begin with. He took the wrong lesson from Vietnam regarding abandonment of an ally, not realizing that no one in the Middle East really considers us to be such. Anyone who’s read the history of the Middle East, especially in the last 200 years, will come to realize that the only thing that’s consistent about these nations is how easily their leaders will stab each other in the back for any perceived short-term gain or any mild slight.

            2. Both of you guys were spot on.

              IMO the best middle east policy is:

              TOTALLY HANDS OFF.

              The second best middle easy policy would be:

              NUKE IT FROM ORBIT!


              Anything else is pretty much folly.

      2. Putting Karzi in there was another unforced error. Guy is a billionaire now, left literally with bags full of money, and his brother is a heroin kingpin. We beat the Taliban with special forces riding horseback with the Northern Alliance and air strikes from Diego Garcia, and then moved in hundreds of thousands of troops after the Taliban were toppled, and ushered in the greatest orgy of military contract work maybe ever. Some people got very very rich on the Afghan war.

    2. ” status as an impoverished, far away country means it could never pose a conventional threat to U.S. security”

      Wait, so a country that shares a border with us could pose a threat to US security?!

      1. You’d think so, but that might be a good argument for border defense and security…

        Reason can’t have that, so ignore this own goal

  5. could have *gotten*?

  6. The Taliban Reason Commentariat has so far refused to recognize the legitimacy of the U.S.-backed government in Kabul, a major sticking point.

  7. >>>The Taliban has so far refused to recognize the legitimacy of the U.S.-backed government in Kabul

    why on Earth would Taliban ever do this?

  8. Oh my God, Trump is going to be the peace candidate in 2020.

    Democrats will no doubt put up a warhawk (since Tulsi and Bernie aren’t going to win) and the LP is going to nominate Bill Weld, a man who’s never seen a war he didn’t support.

    1. To be fair, the Green Party will probably nominate a non-interventionist too

    2. Froget the Dems. Watching Suderman and Dalmia suddenly become war mongers is going to be made for TV entertainment.

      1. To be honest, I never read them write about the topic.

        1. Neither have I. But I have read them write about Trump enough to know they will take any position no matter how stupid and extreme if doing so is necessary to oppose Trump. So, if Trump is the peace candidate, Dalmia and Suderman will learn to love war.

    3. Bill Weld?!? I had to laugh until I realized you will probably be right. Weld’s been itching to defend the honor of that “good kid” HRC that Trump took down.

    4. “Trump is going to be the peace candidate in 2020.”


      Trump will also be the piece of shit candidate. The Donkey will be Giant Douche.

  9. This is a cowardly, reckless, irresponsible idea that was very likely dictated to Drumpf by his Russian intelligence handlers.

    Let’s go back to 2016. With an American victory in Afghanistan within reach, and with the most qualified Presidential candidate ever ready to finish the job, Russia hacked the election and installed a puppet regime in Washington DC. So instead of President Hillary Clinton leading us to a final, decisive victory over the Taliban, we got Putin’s Puppet. And he wants to cut and run, throwing away all the progress that’s been made over more than a decade and a half.
    Absolutely reprehensible.

    My conscience is clear though. I voted for the patriotic pro-military pro-national-security candidate.


    1. When one lump will do, you have to throw in twelve.

      1. I bet you think it gets “boring” or “repetitive” that Stephen Colbert makes Drumpf jokes every night.

        1. Colbert reached the pinnacle of his career with Strangers With Candy. It’s all been boring and repetitive since then.

          1. Holy crap, was he on that show? I haven’t seen it in so long I didn’t even remember if he was…

          2. His career had a pinnacle? It’s been a downward slide.

    2. Lol!

  10. “We have to make it clear to ourselves,” Glaser says, “that a ground presence in Afghanistan doesn’t protect us from terrorism.”

    *** facepalm ***

  11. Those ambitions included… establish a stable, democratic government in its place, Glaser says.

    Fucking morons – every last fucking one of them. I would hope that the blood of thousands of US soldiers would keep them from sleeping at night, but these people have no souls. These same fucking idiots would have us doing regime change in Syria.

    1. I think I tripped the italics bug. Sorry Reason.

      1. Never mind, looks good now.

  12. I think our ground presence in Afghanistan has almost nothing to do with protecting the US mainland from terrorism and almost everything to do with keeping troops in Pakistan’s back yard. Endless war sounds bad but this is Trump’s judgment we’re relying on. With respect to an extremely hostile nuclear power. I’d prefer to wait until someone sane is calling the shots.

    1. Exactly, Tony. Our candidate Hillary Clinton would keep American soldiers in Pakistan’s back yard where they belong. Hopefully Kamala Harris or whoever gets the 2020 Democratic nomination will campaign on reversing Drumpf’s insufficiently aggressive foreign policy. We have the best and most expensive military in the world ? we might as well use it.

      1. Your problem is black-and-white thinking.

        1. Respectfully, I don’t think I have a problem.

          As you have pointed out multiple times, every important election in this country will be won by either of two major parties. One of them, the Democratic Party, is arguably imperfect. The other, the GOP, is pure evil. That means everything a Republican does that a Democrat wouldn’t have done is guaranteed to be wrong. Especially with respect to foreign policy since Drumpf may have been a Russian intelligence asset since 1987.

          So I’d argue black-and-white thinking is entirely appropriate when challenging an illegitimate white nationalist Russian puppet government.

          1. “Respectfully, I don’t think I have a problem”

            You’re boring and a parody. That’s two problems right there screech.

          2. You absolutely do have a serious problem. Apart from being boring, you are completely predictable.
            You only position is to oppose every single decision Trump makes.
            That’s it.
            I have absolutely no doubt that if Trump was vocal on keeping troops in Afghanistan you would be calling him a chicken hawk war monger.
            You have no opinion of your own and rely on Trump’s decisions to dictate your own.

            1. Do you even own a sarc meter?

        2. Hillary 2020!!!

          Give War A Chance!!!

          1. She’s the best Battleaxe ever, just ask Bill!

        3. Your problem is that you’re a complete moron.

    2. “Endless war sounds bad but…”

      This is such a fantastic way to start a sentence. I’m gonna start using that if you don’t mind. Thanks Tony!

    3. Trump’s judgement was enough to destroy the best you had and crush you in a Presidential election.

    4. You know Tony, there is this country that also shares a border with Pakistan that is democratic, pro western, a long time enemy of Pakistan, and also a nuclear power. You may have heard of India perhaps?

      If shit ever goes down, I have littler doubt India will let us do WTF ever we need to to take out the Pakis.

      1. You’re trying to reason with an idiot.

  13. This #LibertarianMoment brought to you by Orange Man and the Deplorables who supported him, over the hysterical pants shitting opposition of @Reason.

    You’re welcome.

  14. The Russians are trying to help us lose thousands of Americans in Afganistan and run up huge debt fighting an unwinable war there.

    Their Socialist regime collapsed shortly after they left Afganistan.

    1. Perhaps our Socialist opposition will similarly collapse.

      *Pop!* …..dream over. Back to reality.

  15. The U. S. military killed the boss beardo of 9/11, plus killed more #2s than there were in The Prisoner. If ever there was a case for declaring victory and going home, this would have to be it.

  16. Yeah, let us GTFO of that shit hole. You can’t force people to live the way you want to. They need to be allowed to do their own thing, even if that is returning immediately back to the dark ages.

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  18. And as with Syria, the Liberals will all of a sudden become hawkish and blame Trump for abandoning the locals to terrorists.

  19. Give Trump some credit. 2 administrations wanted to stay and expand our presence. He caved to the establishment early but it is his push that is making this happen.

    1. Just the fact that he’s made any sort of effort to push back against it is a good sign for when the next administration steps in. The Democrats are going to nominate a non-interventionist at this point anyway, and Trump’s base is tired of sending troops over to Third World shitholes.

      The neocon claque still has a lot of influence on the right, but that influence is dropping by the day as they align themselves politically with the Democrats. The left considers them to be useful idiots and the right’s base won’t ever trust them again.

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  22. Yes, he took the wrong lesson from Vietnam regarding abandonment of an ally, not realizing that no one in the Middle East really considers us to be such.

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