Afghanistan Has Just Gotten Even Weirder

A Taliban car bomb in Kabul killed ten last week, including one American serviceman. Shortly afterward, President Trump cancelled a meeting with the Taliban to sign a completed peace treaty.La Hematula Alizada/Xinhua via ZUMA

Fight disinformation: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter and follow the news that matters.

As you know, we’ve been fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan for 18 years with very little to show for it. Negotiations have been ongoing for years, with progress slow for the obvious reasons, but also because the Taliban is interested only in negotiating US troop withdrawals. They have consistently refused to include the Afghan government in negotiations, since after the Americans leave they plan to continue their civil war and take over the country. In other words, the violence continues apace, with both sides killing each other in large numbers. The New York Times reports:

On Sunday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said American forces in Afghanistan had killed over 1,000 members of the Taliban over the last 10 days.

This is the context. Fighting was intense and our coalition was killing hundreds of Taliban fighters every day. However, we had finally completed a deal and Trump planned to hold a three-way negotiating session at Camp David to finish it. So why did he suddenly cancel it? Let’s go to the Washington Post:

Far from listening to his advisers, he said Monday, “it was my idea to terminate it. I didn’t even discuss it with anybody else.” The reason, he said, both in the Saturday tweet and Monday’s comments, was the death Thursday morning of a U.S. service member killed in a Taliban attack. “You can’t do that. You can’t do that with me,” Trump said. “So, they’re dead as far as I’m concerned,” he said of the negotiations.

But others noted that 16 Americans have been killed by hostile fire this year in Afghanistan, including one just a week before the most recent death — after Trump was briefed on the peace agreement and sent Khalilzad back to the region to finalize it.

Let’s summarize. Fighting, as always, was heavy. More than a dozen Americans had been killed in 2019, including one a week ago. Thousands of Taliban forces had been killed. But that was OK: negotiations were continuing and Trump was ready to sign a deal. Then one more American gets killed and Trump declares the whole peace process dead. Why? Because he actually heard about this one. “You can’t do that with me,” he said. This killing he apparently took as a personal insult, and therefore called off the whole thing. But then what? Trump, after all, has never had any interest in continuing the Afghanistan war. Back to the Times:

Mr. Trump now faces a difficult choice: He can go ahead without a negotiated agreement and reduce the number of American forces in Afghanistan from the current 14,000 to about 8,600 — the bare minimum the Pentagon has said is necessary to maintain enough of an intelligence-gathering presence to detect threats to the United States. But he then risks forfeiting negotiating power in future talks with the Taliban by withdrawing troops without first securing concessions for peace.

So after years of negotiation, there’s still a possibility that we’ll unilaterally give the Taliban what they want without getting anything in return? If it were anyone else I’d say that sounds bonkers. But Trump? You never know. If he somehow decided it might help his reelection changes, he’d probably do it.

We've never been very good at being conservative.

And usually, that serves us well in doing the ambitious, hard-hitting journalism that you turn to Mother Jones for. But it also means we can't afford to come up short when it comes to scratching together the funds it takes to keep our team firing on all cylinders, and the truth is, we finished our budgeting cycle on June 30 about $100,000 short of our online goal.

This is no time to come up short. It's time to fight like hell, as our namesake would tell us to do, for a democracy where minority rule cannot impose an extreme agenda, where facts matter, and where accountability has a chance at the polls and in the press. If you value our reporting and you can right now, please help us dig out of the $100,000 hole we're starting our new budgeting cycle in with an always-needed and always-appreciated donation today.

payment methods

We've never been very good at being conservative.

And usually, that serves us well in doing the ambitious, hard-hitting journalism that you turn to Mother Jones for. But it also means we can't afford to come up short when it comes to scratching together the funds it takes to keep our team firing on all cylinders, and the truth is, we finished our budgeting cycle on June 30 about $100,000 short of our online goal.

This is no time to come up short. It's time to fight like hell, as our namesake would tell us to do, for a democracy where minority rule cannot impose an extreme agenda, where facts matter, and where accountability has a chance at the polls and in the press. If you value our reporting and you can right now, please help us dig out of the $100,000 hole we're starting our new budgeting cycle in with an always-needed and always-appreciated donation today.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate