US, Taliban, Afghan Government sign Peace Deal

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US, Taliban, Afghan Government sign Peace Deal

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The United States and the Taliban agreed on a peace deal Saturday that calls for swift reductions in U.S. forces in Afghanistan in return for commitments by the militant group to reject foreign terrorists, a major step toward ending America's longest war.

To shouts of "God is great," the accord was signed by U.S. and Taliban negotiators side by side in a luxury hotel ballroom in a scene once all but unthinkable. The sides agreed that the U.S. will cut its troop levels from around 12,000 today to 8,600 by early summer—and eventually to withdraw completely from Afghanistan if al-Qaeda and other terror groups do not reemerge there.

Dozens of turbaned, bearded Taliban - some with smart phones, others fingering worry beads - took seats in the red-carpeted hall for the signing, many of them sitting in proximity to current and former U.S. officials, their longtime foes, for the first time.

"Agreement for Bringing Peace to Afghanistan," read a sign in English, Arabic and Pashto on the dais where the officials inked the deal.

The agreement offers perhaps the best opportunity yet for the U.S. to extricate itself from a grinding 19-year war that has cost the lives of more than 2,400 U.S. soldiers and hundreds of thousands of Afghans since it invaded after the terror attacks on Sept. 11, 2001 and ousted the Taliban from power.

Unfortunately it took less than 24 hours to hit the first hurdles:

It took less than 24 hours for the U.S.-Taliban deal to hit its first obstacle — the release of prisoners.

The peace agreement signed Saturday in Qatar calls for as many as 5,000 Taliban prisoners and as many as 1,000 pro-Afghan-government prisoners held by the militants to be released by March 10.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said Sunday he wasn’t ready to release any prisoners before intra-Afghan talks begin next week.

Some in Afghanistan said that the Taliban’s refusal to include Ghani in the deal guaranteed some discord from the start and underscored how difficult it will be for Afghan negotiations to bring peace.

“The (prisoner-release) issue already has created a misunderstanding,” said Afghanistan analyst Mohammad Younas Fakor, a former governor of eastern Herat province. “Many of the articles in the U.S.-Taliban agreement still need to be explained.”

The U.S. deal with the militants is clear in broad strokes: If the Taliban prevent terrorists from operating in Afghanistan, stop waging war on the U.S. and its partners, and hold peace talks, the U.S. and the foreign coalition would begin a phased withdrawal that would end in 14 months.

But details of the conditions that would allow U.S. and coalition forces to leave are unclear.

According to this article in the AP, the goal is to shift focus to the rising local power of China:

The Trump administration’s peace deal with the Taliban opens the door for an initial American troop withdrawal that Defense Secretary Mark Esper sees as a step toward the broader goal of preparing for potential future war with China.

Esper has his eye on “great power competition,” which means staying a step ahead of China and Russia on battlefields of the future, including in space and in next-generation strategic weapons like hypersonic missiles and advanced nuclear weapons. He sees China in particular as a rising threat to American predominance on the world stage.

To do more to prepare for the China challenge, Esper wants to do less in Afghanistan, Iraq and other places. It’s less about moving troops directly to Asia from elsewhere in the world, and more about reducing commitments in lower-priority regions so that more military units can train together at home on skills related to conventional warfare. Predecessors in the Pentagon have had similar hopes, only to be drawn back to crises in the greater Middle East. In the past year alone, the U.S. has sent an extra 20,000 troops to the Middle East, mainly due to worries about Iran.

Opinion amongst those of us why foght and bled these is....well, resigned:

Veterans of America’s longest war are finding themselves torn as the U.S. signs a potentially historic peace accord with the Taliban in Afghanistan.

For many, the U.S. is long overdue in withdrawing its forces after more than 18 years of fighting. Others question the trustworthiness of the Taliban, whose hard-line government the U.S.-led forces overthrew in 2001. Skeptics worry the Taliban’s re-integration could cause Afghanistan to backslide on such issues as human rights.

“If they sign a peace treaty and Afghanistan goes back to the Taliban or Sharia law, then it’s all been for nothing,” said former Army Staff Sgt. Will Blackburn of Hinesville, Georgia.

Though doubtful the Taliban will abide by the peace deal, Blackburn said he’s ready for hostilities to end. He first deployed to Afghanistan in 2004 with an infantry unit of the Army’s 10th Mountain Division. A decade later, his son headed overseas for the same fight.

“Anything that would get us out of that country, I will support fully,” said Blackburn, 58, who left the Army in 2010.

The Washington Post has a fairly upbeat video up on the prospects for peace:

Also The American Legion put out a release as well:

The leader of the nation’s largest veterans organization welcomed the prospect of peace in Afghanistan, while at the same time expressing distrust for the Taliban.

“We cannot forget that the Taliban comprised one of the most vicious and brutal regimes in history,"Oxford said. "Terrorists lie. At the same time, we are humane and deeply respect the sacrifices made by so many American families. Nobody hates war more than veterans, and The American Legion would like nothing more than seeing the nearly two decade conflict in Afghanistan end.

“The Taliban no longer rule Afghanistan and have expressed a desire to engage the legitimate government. They have agreed to a cease fire and to take steps to ensure that Afghanistan will never again be used as a haven by terrorists who plot to harm the United States. In exchange, the U.S. government has agreed to reduce our forces there to 8,600 and then gradually to zero. We welcome this agreement. It is made possible by the 800,000 U.S. troops and our coalition allies who have served there since 2001. We will never forget the nearly 2,400 Americans who died in Afghanistan. Nor will we forget their wounded comrades.

"They made Afghanistan a better place. We have a right to expect the Taliban to abide by the agreement so that peace can finally come to this troubled region. The Taliban have violated agreements before and we maintain a healthy dose of skepticism, along with a commitment to never again ignore threats that could lead to another 9/11.”

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News from the World of Military and Veterans Issues. Iraq and A-Stan in parenthesis reflects that the author is currently deployed to that theater.