COLORADO SPRINGS — A temporary truce between the United States and the Taliban in Afghanistan took effect Friday, with the hopes that it would lead to a long term peace agreement and eventual withdrawal of U.S. troops from the war torn country. There is cautious optimism to be sure since there are so many unknowns in a conflict that has lasted longer than any U.S. war, and has taken countless U.S. lives the past 18 years.
Under the agreement, both sides have committed to end attacks for at least seven days, followed by the signing of a peace accord that could be the beginning of the end of our nation's longest war. But there remain skeptics on both sides given the instability in that country and the lack of a viable peace plan in the last two decades.
Among the skeptics is Colorado Republican Senator Cory Gardner, who spoke with News5 on Thursday about this very topic. He told me "Well, I certainly don't trust the Taliban, and I'm very concerned about this, but we have to make sure we are doing everything we can to protect our country to protect our men and women in Afghanistan and beyond, and if diplomacy can lead to peace instead of conflict and war, that's a good thing, no one has felt the cost and price of conflict more than the people of Colorado Springs, the men and women in uniform in this community."
Should the truce stand, the U.S.-Taliban deal would be followed within 10 days by the start of all-Afghan peace talks that could result in the formation of a new government in Kabul, a pledge from the Taliban not to allow terrorist groups to operate in the country, and the phased withdrawal of U.S. and other foreign troops over 18 months. The plan is a gamble for President Trump, who re-tweeted several news accounts of the agreement. If it's successful, he will be able to claim to have taken a first step toward meeting his 2016 campaign pledge to bring American troops home. But if it fails, the President could be painted by his Democratic adversaries in an election year as being naïve and willing to sacrifice the security of U.S. soldiers and American interests for the sake of political expediency.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement that the peace agreement, to be signed in Doha, Qatar, by U.S. special envoy for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad and Taliban representatives, will eventually lead to a permanent cease-fire. The deal also envisions guarantees from the Taliban that Afghanistan will not be used to attack the U.S. or its allies. Pompeo said "We are preparing for the signing to take place on February 29," Pompeo said. "Intra-Afghan negotiations will start soon thereafter, and will build on this fundamental step to deliver a comprehensive and permanent ceasefire and the future political road map for Afghanistan."
The Taliban, meanwhile, said in a statement that the agreement is intended to achieve nationwide peace and and end to the foreign troop presence in the country. But the road ahead is fraught with difficulties, particularly as some Taliban elements and other groups have shown little interest in negotiations. An attack that killed two Americans last September disrupted what at the time was an expected announcement of a peace deal.
Under the terms of the ''reduction in violence", which covers all of Afghanistan and also applies to Afghan forces as well as the United States and Taliban, all sides have committed to end attacks for seven days. For the Taliban, that includes roadside bombings, suicide attacks and rocket strikes.
The Pentagon has declined to say whether the U.S. had agreed to cut its troop levels in Afghanistan to zero. Defense Secretary Mark Esper has said if the truce is successful and the Afghan peace talks begin, the U.S. would reduce its troop contingent "over time" to about 8,600. There are more than 12,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan.