/Taliban sign landmark agreement in bid to end Americas longest war

Taliban sign landmark agreement in bid to end Americas longest war

DOHA, Qatar — The U.S. invasion of Afghanistan started nearly 7,000 miles away on a sunny September morning that saw hijacked planes slam into the iconic twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, the Pentagon and a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

On Saturday, more than 18 years after it was triggered by the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the U.S. made a bid to end America’s longest war.

Hundreds of miles from the battlefields of Afghanistan in a glitzy banquet hall in a five-star hotel in Qatar, the United States and the Taliban signed a landmark agreement that paves the way for U.S. troops to begin withdrawing from the desperately poor and war-torn Central Asian country.

U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad and the Taliban’s chief negotiator and one of its founders, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, signed the agreement in Doha after more than a year of on-off formal talks.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also attended the ceremony, but did not sign the document, which stipulated that the U.S. would withdraw all forces within 14 months and pull out of five bases in 135 days.

Meanwhile, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper was in Kabul Saturday to meet with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and leaders of NATO and the resolute support mission which trains, advises and assists Afghan national defense and security forces. His aim there was to “further engage with the Afghan peace process,” he wrote in a tweet.

The deadliest terror attack on American soil, which killed nearly 3,000 people, prompted President George W. Bush to send the first of many waves of U.S. troops to Afghanistan, a country most Americans could not then spot on a map, in October 2001.

Their mission was to topple the Taliban regime after it sheltered Al Qaeda and its leader, Osama bin Laden, the architect of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. While the invasion sw­­iftly overthrew the militants, it also embroiled America in a deadly quagmire that has cost the lives of around 2,300 U.S. troops and wounded thousands of others.

After 18 years, there are currently between 12,000 to 13,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, who advise Afghan forces and carry out counterterrorism operations against Al Qaeda and the Islamic State militant group.

President Donald Trump has repeatedly railed against America’s “endless wars” abroad and Saturday’s deal will give him a talking point in his bid for re-election.

America’s war in Afghanistan has spanned three U.S. administrations and Trump’s predecessor in the White House, Barack Obama, had tried to extricate U.S. troops from the country and even outlined a plan for a final exit. But Obama held off in the end amid concerns about the staying power of the Afghan security forces against a resilient insurgency.

The war has taken a devastating toll — Afghanistan currently tops the list of the world’s deadliest conflicts.

Since 2016, children have accounted for nearly one-third of the estimated 11,000 civilian casualties every year in the conflict, according to Human Rights Watch. Since the United Nations began systematically documenting the impact of the war on civilians in 2009, it has recorded more than 100,000 civilian casualties, including more than 35,000 killed and 65,000 injured.

Between 2001 and October 2018, more than 58,000 Afghan security forces were also killed, according to a study by Brown University.

And nearly two decades after the U.S. invaded and billions of American taxpayer dollars later, the Taliban control, influence or contest nearly half of the country, according to the last reported numbers released by the Department of Defense in January 2019.

The Afghan government is perceived to be one of the world’s most corrupt and is currently facing its own political crisis as its rivals refute the results of September’s presidential elections, claiming that the polling was riddled with fraud.

And the status of women in Afghanistan — like so many other parts of Afghan life — is once again up in the air as a return to Taliban rule in the country could potentially jeopardize nearly two decades of progress for Afghan women.

Saphora Smith and Mushtaq Yusufzai reported from Doha, Dan De Luce from Washington and Ahmed Mengli from Kabul.

Ahmed Mengli contributed.

Original Source