17-Year War in Afghanistan Simmers Down as Peace Talks Begin in Earnest



Soldiers marching

Sophia Lauer, Senior Editor

After 17 years of war in Afghanistan, negotiations are underway between the US and the Taliban in Doha, Qatar, but a few key sticking points still hold up the peace progress.

With the formation of an official framework for negotiations this Monday, January 28, the progress in Doha marks the nearest the US has come to peace with the Taliban. The war started in 2001 when the US toppled the Afghan government for harboring the al Qaeda members responsible the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The next round of peace talks will come on February 25, during which a few disagreements will need to be resolved.

One of the major hiccups in the peace talks involves the timing of the withdrawal of US troops. While the US is looking for immediate ceasefire, the Taliban demands US forces must withdraw before a ceasefire is initiated.

“Of course we don’t seek a permanent military presence in Afghanistan,” an anonymous American official told Reuters. “Our goal is to help bring peace in Afghanistan and we would like a future partnership, newly defined with a post-peace government,” the official said. “We would like to leave a good legacy.”

The other main problem in talks with the Taliban is its refusal to engage in direct peace talks with the US-backed government in Kabul. The US-backed government has remained in Kabul since US forces destroyed the hardline Islamic government after 9/11, but still goes unrecognized by the Taliban as a legitimate authority.

“To achieve… an agreement, the Taliban must engage with other Afghans and all sides must agree to resolve their differences through peaceful means,” said a US official from the Kabul government.

Taliban officials have repeatedly refused to talk to the Afghan government, which they regard as a US puppet, leading analysts to question how effective or permanent a peace deal could be. The Taliban do want, however, to join an interim government post-deal.

The Taliban controls nearly half of Afghanistan, and regularly stages attacks against the Kabul government. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani revealed in a statement last week that over 45,000 Afghan security forces were killed since he took office in 2014. Analysts cite this as further indication that peace talks will be difficult if the US refuses to compromise on the point of the Kabul government.

Acting US Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan told reporters at the Pentagon that he had been briefed on the negotiations, but was not asked to plan troop withdrawals.

In December, President Trump said he plans on withdrawing 5,000 of the 14,000 US troops in Afghanistan, following similar withdrawals from Syria. 8,000 troops from 38 countries are still in Afghanistan as part of a NATO-led counterterrorism mission called Resolute Support, aimed mostly at groups like Islamic State and al Qaeda.