Stories by Michael Kugelman

Expert Voices

Advances in U.S.–Taliban peace talks offer cause for cautious optimism

Zalmay Khalilzad speaks and gestures from a table with mics
Zalmay Khalilzad, the former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan and Iraq who is leading negotiations with the Taliban. Photo: Massoud Hossaini/AFP/Getty Images

After failing to produce the blueprint of a deal in many previous talks, the U.S. and the Taliban have now agreed in principle to a framework that would provide a Taliban guarantee that Afghan soil wouldn’t be used by terrorists — followed by the possibility of a U.S. troop withdrawal and Taliban concessions that include a cease-fire and agreement to hold formal negotiations with Kabul.

Why it matters: This isn’t just a case of several Taliban factions trying to test the waters and seeing what the U.S. has to offer. The Taliban has sent several of its top leaders to the negotiations — high-ranking officials who would not show up just for informal chats with the Americans.

Expert Voices

Canceled Taliban talks bode ill for peace prospects in Afghanistan

Secretary General of North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Jens Stoltenberg (L) gestures as speaks during a joint press conference with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg during a joint press conference with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani at the Presidential Palace in Kabul, on Nov. 6, 2018. Photo: Wakil Kohsar/AFP via Getty Images

The Taliban canceled its scheduled peace talks with U.S. officials this week in Qatar, following an encouraging meeting between senior U.S. and Taliban representatives in the UAE several weeks ago. The Taliban objected to Washington’s desire to include Afghan officials in this round, who were not present at the last meeting.

The big picture: The cancellation underscores the daunting challenge of launching peace talks in Afghanistan. The Taliban refuses to talk to Kabul until Washington reaches a deal with the insurgents on the departure of U.S. forces. Washington has expressed a willingness to discuss the troop issue with the Taliban, but it also wants Kabul to talk to the Taliban as soon as possible to ensure that the Afghan government isn’t written out of the script of its own reconciliation process.

Expert Voices

Trump's hasty withdrawal from Afghanistan could imperil peace process

A member of the Afghan security forces walks at the site of a suicide bomb attack outside a British security firm's compound in Kabul, a day after the blast on November 29, 2018.
A member of the Afghan security forces at the site of a suicide bomb attack that killed at least 10 in Kabul, on Nov. 29. Photo: Noorullah Shirzada/AFP via Getty Images

President Trump reportedly intends to withdraw nearly half of the 14,000 U.S. troops currently in Afghanistan. Given repeated U.S. failures to eradicate the Taliban over the past 17 years, and at the expense of U.S. lives lost and billions spent, bringing troops home has its merits.

Yes, but: Withdrawing 7,000 troops also poses a major risk. In recent months, Washington has been trying to help launch a peace process between Kabul and the Taliban, and the timing of the announcement, along with the speed of the withdrawal’s implementation, could jeopardize its success.