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Will short-term deal between U.S., Taliban pave the way for Afghan peace?

The U.S. has reached a short-term agreement with the Taliban that could pave the way for ending the war in Afghanistan that has endured for nearly 20 years. Under the plan, U.S. forces and the Taliban agree to a temporary cessation of violence and a phased approach to the withdrawal of American troops. But is the Afghan government on board? Nick Schifrin joins Judy Woodruff from Munich to discuss.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    The United States reached an agreement today with the insurgent group in Afghanistan, the Taliban, that could pave the way for ending the war in that country.

    Our foreign affairs correspondent, Nick Schifrin, joins us from Munich, Germany, where senior administration officials made the announcement.

    Hello, Nick.

    So, tell us, what you have learned about what is in this agreement?

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Yes, Judy, it's important to say that this agreement is seven days. The clock hasn't started yet. The U.S. will announce when the clock starts, but there are a lot of details in this agreement, what has to happen in those seven days.

    A couple of details. One, it covers the whole country. The Taliban are not to launch any attacks across the country. Two, it's violence against both Afghans and Americans. And it covers in writing all types of violence, roadside bombs, suicide attacks and rockets.

    And both sides acknowledge, though, that some violence in Afghanistan is not entirely directed by the Taliban. So, in order to deal with that, they have created a way so that the Taliban and the U.S. military in Kabul can speak to each other, a kind of dispute mechanism, whereby, for example, if there's some violence, the U.S. military can actually pick up the phone and call the Taliban and ask, hey, was this you?

    And the U.S. is fearful that there are criminal groups or even actors from outside Afghanistan who will continue some of this violence. And that's why, Judy, they're not using the word truce. They do acknowledge that this is not going to be a reduction of violence all the way to zero.

    But, if it happens, once this clock is started and they go seven days, then, if there's no violence during that time, then they can actually get to the full peace agreement.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And what is known about that longer-term agreement?

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Yes.

    So the agreement, it covers four major parts. The first part is about terrorism. The Taliban has agreed not to recruit, fund-raise or train international terrorists in areas they control.

    Number two, the Taliban and Afghan government will begin to talk directly right after the U.S. and the Taliban makes this deal. And, number three, they're going to discuss — quote — "a permanent and comprehensive cease-fire."

    Now, in exchange, the U.S. would withdraw its troops. And the stated aim is to withdraw U.S. troops to zero in phases conditioned on progress in those first three aspects.

    But, Judy, U.S. officials are also acknowledging that there could, could be a residual force, a kind of counterterrorism force left in Afghanistan. We asked a senior administration official about that. The official said: "We're not looking to be there just to be there, but for the U.S. to go completely to zero, conditions in Afghanistan do need to improve."

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, Nick, if that's where the United States and the Taliban are, what about the government of Afghanistan?

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Yes, I think that's a crucial question, Judy, because, of course, it is the government of Afghanistan and the Taliban who will ultimately have to make the deal that integrates the Taliban into the government and really is the political end to this war.

    We asked the senior administration official twice, does Ashraf Ghani, the president of Afghanistan, support this deal? And, twice, this senior administration official, all the official could say is that they had a good meeting between President Ghani and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo here in Munich earlier today.

    So the official could not acknowledge that the Afghan government supports the deal. And, Judy, for months, Afghan officials have been saying that they want a comprehensive cease-fire up front, and they have also been worried that the U.S. wants to withdraw U.S. troops more than they actually want to bring peace.

    You have to remember, this is a fragile government in a country with still a lot of violence, Judy. And as one official has been saying, they fear that this isn't a peace agreement, but actually a withdrawal agreement.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Nick, you were telling us it's so important to put this in historical perspective.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Yes, this is the U.S.' longest war. About 10 years ago, the U.S. did launch an effort to try and get to a political deal with the Taliban, but the U.S. wasn't united.

    The Pentagon, the military wasn't united with the intelligence community, not united with the White House. The effort largely failed.

    This administration got to the point last fall where they actually had these details agreed, but after a U.S. soldier was killed by an attack believed to be backed by Iran, President Trump pulled the deal among questions about whether the Taliban should be invited to Camp David and resistance from the then National Security Adviser John Bolton.

    But, Judy, today, the U.S. has unity between the Pentagon, the military, the intelligence services and, most importantly, of course, President Trump, who wants to withdraw from Afghanistan.

    This is the most serious attempt and the closest attempt the U.S. has been made — has made to ending the war.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Clearly would be a breakthrough, if it happens.

    Nick Schifrin reporting for us from Munich, thank you, Nick.

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