In late February, the U.S. government signed a peace deal with the Taliban aimed at bringing American troops home, as well as to end its 19-year-long military operations in Afghanistan.
“As part of the deal, the United States would withdraw 4,400 of 13,000 troops in the next three to four months, with the remainder leaving in 14 months. In exchange, the Taliban committed to preventing terrorists from using Afghanistan as a staging ground for attacks… The war has claimed the lives of 2,440 American soldiers and cost taxpayers US$750 billion,” The Epoch Times reported.
U.S. forces deployed to Afghanistan following the September 11 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in 2001. The Taliban had assisted Al-Qaeda terrorists who hijacked the planes that crashed into the Twin Towers and killed 2,977 people.
The Taliban’s control has been reduced to around half of Afghanistan, with the U.S. backing a turbulent democratic government based in Kabul, the capital and largest city.
The peace agreement signing ceremony was held in Qatar between U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Taliban leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, and U.S. peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad.
Pompeo stated that the U.S. has a realistic view of the agreement and will protect American troops by any means necessary if the Taliban does not live up to their commitments. Just days after the signing, Taliban fighters attacked an Afghan National Defense and Security Forces checkpoint in Helmand. American forces carried out an airstrike against Taliban forces in retaliation.
Despite these skirmishes, the U.S. government is still hopeful that the agreement will hold. However, many security experts have their reservations. Criticism of the deal is centered on the U.S. plan to withdraw all its troops over a 9-month period.
Some analysts have warned that the Taliban has no intention of maintaining peace in Afghanistan, and instead seeks the withdrawal of U.S. forces so that it can focus its efforts on undermining and overthrowing the legal government in Kabul.
“Presently we are training around 15,000 fighters in our dozens of training centers across Afghanistan… As per our agreement with the U.S., we will not carry out attacks in the cities and district headquarters in Afghanistan. But we will continue our attacks in the rural areas of the country,” a Taliban commander told NBC News.
However, U.S. officials emphasize that the planned withdrawal is based on the Taliban honoring the peace conditions, which include breaking ties with terrorist groups and entering into negotiations with the Afghan government.
Before the agreement could be signed, Gen. Austin Miller, the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, had to verify that a prior weeklong partial truce was being honored between the Taliban and Kabul.
“The reduction in violence was a confidence builder,” the 58-year-old general told Fox News in a recent interview. “We saw the lowest level [of violence] since 2016 across the country.”
One condition of the U.S.-Taliban deal is that the Afghanistan government will release 5,000 Taliban prisoners. Though President Ashraf Ghani had earlier rejected the proposal, he eventually approved the release of 1,500 prisoners with the condition that the prisoners provide a written guarantee that they will not participate in any more battles.
The presidential decree makes it clear that “all 1,500 prisoners will be released within 15 days, with 100 prisoners walking out of Afghan jails every day.” Talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban will take place in parallel with the release. If talks progress, the government has pledged to free 500 more Taliban prisoners every two weeks until a total of 5,000 have been released,” the BBC reported.
The Taliban is expected to hand over 1,000 captured government troops in return. They must reduce the violence their forces perpetrate in the country as well as prohibit al-Qaeda and other extremist groups from operating in the regions under their control. The United Nations Security Council has supported the U.S.-Taliban peace agreement.