Debate Flares Over Afghanistan as Trump Considers Troop Withdrawal

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Skeptics say it is naïve to trust Taliban assurances. Mr. Joscelyn insisted that a potentially fatal flaw would be a failure to ensure that the Taliban, which he said have perfected “weasel” language, specifically name groups that they will shun. Another person familiar with the draft agreement said that had been a sticking point in the negotiations. But defenders of the deal say any withdrawal would be conditioned on the Taliban delivering on their promises.

Among those meeting with Mr. Trump on Friday in Bedminster, N.J., where he is spending a working vacation, were Vice President Mike Pence; Secretary of State Mike Pompeo; Secretary of Defense Mark T. Esper; John R. Bolton, the national security adviser; and Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Mr. Khalilzad presented the group his agreement with the Taliban, which would be only a first step toward peace in Afghanistan. The Taliban have demanded that the United States commit to leaving Afghanistan before their leaders begin negotiations with the country’s United States-backed government over its political future. Details of that process remain unresolved and could threaten the pace of American withdrawal.

Even if the Taliban reach an agreement with the Afghan government, current and former government officials fear it may be only a matter of time before they seek to reconquer the entire country, as they did in the 1990s, creating a radical religious government that provided safe haven to the Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

The United States now has 14,000 troops in Afghanistan, a number that rose after Mr. Trump, pressured by top advisers and generals who wanted more leverage over the Taliban, reluctantly ordered more troops there in August 2017.

He had inherited a troop presence of 8,400 from Mr. Obama, who after approving a peak force of 100,000 in 2011 significantly lowered his expectations for defeating the Taliban and reshaping the shattered Central Asian country.

The Taliban are Sunni Muslim fundamentalists who for years have battled Afghan and American forces, and have mounted ruthless terrorist attacks on civilians. But even as they provided Al Qaeda with continued harbor, the Taliban did not seek to conduct terrorist attacks beyond Afghanistan, and they have battled openly with the Islamic State, whose presence has grown in the country in recent years.

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