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Trump Could Give Nod to Afghanistan Withdrawal Deal on Friday

It appears that it’s the beginning of the end of the U.S. presence in Afghanistan.

U.S. President Donald Trump and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani meet at the United Nations General Assembly on October 2, 2017. (Image Credit: White House)
U.S. President Donald Trump and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani meet at the United Nations General Assembly on October 2, 2017. (Image Credit: White House)

A preliminary peace deal between the United States and the Afghan Taliban insurgent group is “99 percent done,” according to CNN. The news channel reports that U.S. President Donald Trump will meet with his national security team tomorrow to review the draft agreement.

U.S. special envoy for Afghan peace Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad is then expected to head back to Doha immediately to finalize the agreement with the Taliban, which has a diplomatic office in the city. A deal could be signed as early as Monday, August 19—Afghanistan’s independence day, CNN reports.

According to the deal, the U.S. military presence will be cut by almost half, from 15,000 troops to 8,000 or 9,000 troops in exchange for a ceasefire between America and the Taliban and guarantees by the militant group relating to U.S. counterterrorism interests. It is unclear whether the Taliban have agreed to formally cut ties with al-Qaeda. The two groups have been tied together since the mid-1990s.

Not included in the deal is the Kabul government. A senior U.S. official—either National Security Advisor John Bolton or Secretary of State Mike Pompeo—may visit Afghan President Ashraf Ghani in Kabul as Khalilzad signs the deal in Doha.

It is unclear whether the agreement provides a specific timeline for or commitment to a full U.S. withdrawal. American officials have said that Trump wants to pull out all American troops from Afghanistan before the presidential elections next November. At the same time, Trump has also indicated that he would like to retain a counterterrorism or intelligence presence in Afghanistan.

A dialogue between the Taliban and mainstream Afghan political forces could begin once a U.S.-Taliban deal is secured. And getting Afghans to agree on a compromise political system and division of power may be a far tougher ordeal than the U.S.-Taliban negotiations, whose first stage could be coming to a close after roughly a year.

Arif Rafiq is the editor of Globely News and host of The Pivot podcast. He's contributed to publications such as Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, the New Republic, and POLITICO Magazine, and has appeared on broadcast outlets such as Al Jazeera English, the BBC World Service, CNN International, and National Public Radio. Rafiq is also a non-resident fellow at the Middle East Institute in Washington, DC.

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