This piece originally appeared at USIP.org.
Full Article: https://www.usip.org/publications/2020/11/afghanistan-withdrawal-should-be-based-conditions-not-timelines
By Scott Worden
A rapid, unconditional U.S. exit puts the peace process and the gains Afghanistan has made in the last 20 years into serious jeopardy.
The Taliban’s tactic of running out the clock on the U.S. troop presence may bear fruit after the announcement on Tuesday that U.S. forces will reduce to 2,500 by January 15. The Trump administration successfully created leverage by engaging directly with the Taliban to meet their paramount goal of a U.S. withdrawal in exchange for genuine peace talks and counterterrorism guarantees. This strategy brought about unprecedented negotiations between Afghan government representatives and the Taliban in Doha. A walk down a conditions-based path to peace, long and winding as it may be, had begun.
But at each step along the way, the U.S. government made concessions in the form of accelerated troop reductions with seemingly little of value in return. As the current administration’s term winds down, plans for a troop withdrawal have sped up again, and the Taliban’s dream of biding its time until the United States leaves moves closer to reality. If the current trajectory continues, they can anticipate retaining their military capability to continue battling the Afghan government without taking difficult steps to eliminate al-Qaida safe havens.