By Adnan Qaiser 15 April 2020
In this first paper among a five-part discussion series on Afghanistan, Adnan Qaiser, with a distinguished career in the armed forces and international diplomacy, examines why there is more than what meets the eye in the peace-deal signed between the U.S. and the Taliban on 29 February 2020
You may find other papers here:
Part-III: Afghan Civil War 2.0: Return of Revenge
French President Charles de Gaulle had once noted: “Treaties are like young girls and roses; they last while they last.” Likewise, the peace-deal signed between the United States and the Taliban, ending a 19-year long-drawn war, on 29 February 2020 may not end as desired. Since the deal was signed on a rare occurring leap-day, its chances of success remain equally remote.
Owing to their respective compulsions, both the signatories of the agreement remain less than honest in their commitments. However, while America can never bid sayonara – or a permanent goodbye (as the Japanese say) – to Afghanistan, and to the region at large, Taliban, too, can ill-afford a complete U.S. divorce. As Washington knew too well, what has not been won in the battlefield cannot be won on the negotiating table; Taliban also remain mindful of who holds the wallet.
It has although belatedly dawned upon the Americans that “victory [in Afghanistan] was never an option,” as observed by The New York Times in its editorial on 29 February 2020. Linking the peace-deal with the U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam in January 1973 – after a “prolonged, needless and very costly war” – the editorial noted, “That is not to say either deal was wrong. On the contrary, recognizing when a fight has become useless is the right thing to do. Americans have long run out of good reasons to continue dying and killing in a land whose many tribes make it notoriously difficult to govern and whose mountainous terrain renders it all but impossible to conquer. American soldiers deployed to the country as recently as last night had trouble articulating what their mission there was, short of making it home in one piece.”
However, as observed by me in my January 2018’s paper titled Afghanistan’s Overstayed Houseguest: US Strategic Regional Interests (at this forum), America has quite a few constraints to maintain its continued military presence in the region.
Washington’s Strategic Regional Compulsions
First of all, in the backdrop of President Trump’s National Security Strategy of December 2017, Pentagon and State Department have shifted their focus towards U.S. strategic great-power competition with Russia and China.
Secondly, a perpetually defiant Iran, constantly destabilizing the Middle East and determined to become a nuclear power, keeps Washington preoccupied.
Third, inter-linked to Iran, Middle East’s fast worsening situation merits Washington’s continued regional presence. However, after the Iraqi parliament’s rebuke, passing a unanimous resolution to expel U.S. troops from the county on 5 March 2020, stationing of American troops in Iraq may not be feasible any longer. With the U.S. forces coming under continued rocket attacks, America has been forced to evacuate its bases one after another in recent weeks. The abrupt withdrawal of U.S.-led NATO forces from the three Iraqi bases in Qaim, Qayyarah and Kirkuk demonstrates limits to U.S. ground power in the Middle East.
Middle East’s volatility further obliges U.S. to station two of its aircraft carriers in the Gulf region, as a sign of what U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) commander General Kenneth McKenzie calls “a floating piece of American sovereignty.” Despite downgrading the Iranian threat by stating, “We believe we have established a level of state-to-state deterrence, in that Iran does not seek a large scale military exchange with the United States” the general hastened to add: “None of their [Iranians] core objectives have changed.” Such a preoccupation necessitates deployment of troops elsewhere in the region.
Fourth, Pakistan as a 23rd most fragile but nuclear-armed state in the world further warrants U.S. presence in the region. Enabling China to become a “two-ocean country,” through China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) – a flagship project of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) – and handing over world’s third largest deep-sea port at Gwador to China on a forty-year lease, Pakistan has not only accelerated China’s global ascendency but also chosen to become a communist client state.
Finally, with more and more countries like Syria, Turkey, Iran, Qatar, and Libya joining the Russian camp, Washington can ill-afford Afghanistan to become a Russian ally, once again – or fall as a trophy in China’s hand.
National interests of countries are always blind and brutal. Thus, despite two decades of hemorrhaging of American blood and treasure – not to mention that of NATO forces – especially the loss of over 2,400, U.S. soldiers with several others wounded, and nearly a trillion U.S. dollars spent on an unwinnable war – it has been Washington’s strategic interests that have kept it fighting a lost war.
Mark Mazzetti, noted in his 2013’s book The Way of the Knife: The CIA, a Secret Army, and a War at the Ends of the Earth: “In the counterterrorism vernacular, the requirement was to ‘find, fix, and finish’ the terrorists. But as [former U.S. defence secretary Donald] Rumsfeld would admit years later, ‘We had the ability to finish. We just couldn’t find and fix things.’”
The peace-deal invited a lot of public criticism (see endnotes). However, U.S. cannot simply cut and run from Afghanistan. The Soviets faced a similar dilemma at the time of their withdrawal in February 1989. According to a report in Journal of Cold War Studies, then Soviet foreign minister, Andrei Gromyko, identified Soviets’ most important baseline strategic objective during a Politburo meeting: “Our goal is to make Afghanistan neutral [and] prevent its transition into the enemy camp” – a term Gromyko used to characterize “extremist mujahedeen.”
It is, therefore, implausible for the U.S. to forsake Afghanistan as a war-booty into the hands of its adversaries and competitors like Russia, China and Iran. A continued American presence and economic support – no matter in a leaner shape and form – thus, would be needed to stop Afghanistan from becoming an arena of regional Buzkashi (Afghanistan’s polo style national goat-grabbing game).
Point No. 3 of the Agreement’s Part Three affirms, “The United States will seek economic cooperation for reconstruction with the new post-settlement Afghan Islamic government as determined by the intra-Afghan dialogue and negotiations, and will not intervene in its internal affairs.” It is noteworthy that despite refusing to recognize Taliban’s Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, Washington has shown its willingness to support an “inclusive Afghan Islamic government.”
In the backdrop of U.S. intelligence reports about doubts about Taliban honouring their part of the peace-deal, disagreements between the White House and the Pentagon are not hidden. Warranting NATO’s presence in Afghanistan, Pentagon’s National Defense Strategy (NDS) of 2018 unambiguously identifies threats emerging out of Moscow and Beijing in the new world order. U.S. withdrawal from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) of 1987 with Russia – seeking to include China in a new framework – besides creating a “space force” and testing new hypersonic missiles point towards Washington’s growing concerns and priorities in the changing world.
Thus, the presence of U.S. defence secretary Mark Esper along with NATO’s secretary general, Jen Stoltenberg at Kabul at the time of Doha peace-deal was more than symbolic. Predictably, Germany, NATO’s largest troop contributor, had already extended its Afghan mission in 2019. Foreign forces “condition-based” withdrawal makes the agreement ambiguous enough to leave enough room for Washington to maneuver under evolving circumstances in the future.
Moreover, calling it U.S. standard practice of “doing business in Afghanistan,” General McKenzie confirmed the media reports about U.S. leaving behind “special operators” to combat terror-groups in Afghanistan. The general’s admission confirms Washington’s long-haul in war-ravaged Afghanistan.
Finally, America’s Pivot to Asia policy under President Obama, along with his secretary of state Hillary Clinton’s New Silk Road initiative and Pentagon’s expansion of its Pacific Command to Indian Ocean remain part of a larger strategy of maintaining a continued presence in the region for an unlimited time.
U.S. Presidents’ Preoccupation with Afghanistan
While commentators have criticized President Trump’s decision to withdraw American forces from Afghanistan, the president has played his cards well. On one hand, Mr. Trump has fulfilled his election promise to his voters strongly believing that “We should never have gotten in the first place.” On the other side the president has kept his options open – or that of his successor from the Democratic Party – by extending the complete withdrawal timeframe extended up to a fourteen month period. During this time, the current, or the new U.S. administration, would decide the forces’ withdrawal issue better, based on ground situation. Being a good negotiator, Mr. Trump has, however, aptly assuaged any apprehensions among the Taliban leadership about U.S. commitment to the peace-deal by speaking to Mullah Ghani Barader for 35 minutes and calling his relationship with the Taliban “very good.”
In the face of Moscow becoming more aggressive geopolitically and an assertive Beijing harbouring greater global ambitions, Washington’s countermeasures to protect its superpower status make sense. After his subtle encroachment in Georgia and Ukraine, Mr. Putin’s intervention in Syria and Libya and close ties with Turkey and Qatar evidence his deft geopolitics. President Xi Jinping’s pledge, on the other hand, at the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party in October 2017 to build a world class army in a “new era” by 2049, should give a wake-up call to any American president. Referring to the Greek metaphor of Thucydides Trap when a rising power Athens challenged Sparta in ancient Greece, or when Germany had threatened the Great Britain a century ago; analysts have already begun to link Beijing’s ascendant power rivalry with Washington’s pre-eminence.
That’s why, despite promising to end the “America’s wars,” even President Obama could not extricate U.S. forces from Iraq, due to Daesh phenomenon (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) and Afghanistan. Not having his heart and mind sold to the war in Afghanistan, Mr. Obama had further invited a lot of flak when concurrent to his “troop-surge” approval in 2011, the president announced the U.S. withdrawal plan too. However, becoming, what the president’s critics later called Obama’s “failed legacy in Afghanistan,” the commander-in-chief of the U.S. forces had to back away from his words yet again in May 2014. Thus, while receiving his Nobel Peace Prize in 2009, President Obama’s thoughts about wars as “sometimes necessary, [but] at some level … an expression of human folly” turned the quagmire in Afghanistan from a “good war” to “good enough war.”
Writing in The Atlantic on 30 March 2016, Edward Delman quoted Jeffrey Goldberg to whom while referring to the two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan President Obama had vowed that “he was not seeking new dragons to slay.” “Just the opposite: He fit the mold, Goldberg argued, of a ‘retrenchment president’ elected to scale back America’s commitments overseas and shift responsibilities to allies. But you could be forgiven for thinking the dragons have stubbornly remained, and even multiplied, on Obama’s watch.” “In other words,” Delman noted: “The dragons persist, but now the dragon-slayers tend to operate in the air—or in the shadows.”
Washington’s long-term engagement in Afghanistan and Central Asia is further evident through its C5+1 platform – a multilateral forum that was established in November 2015 at a ministerial meeting in Samarkand (Uzbekistan), with a goal to expand inter-regional cooperation and boost Central Asia’s relations with the United States. Ostensibly aiming to address common security and environmental challenges, improve regional trade flows, and enhance prospects for U.S. trade and investment with the region, C5+1 remains another American initiative to not only check – and challenge – Russia and China’s partnership in Central Asia but also the steady growth of Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) having all the necessary ingredients to become a full-fledged military alliance from its present economic platform.
Peace-deal: More than What Meets the Eye
Notwithstanding our public pledges and promises, intentions are said to be something between a person and divinity alone.
Despite beginning to pull-out its troops from Afghanistan (in stages) and asking the Afghan leaders to end their feud, the United Nations and the Western countries have linked their crucial political support and economic aid and assistance to Afghanistan in the future – read: the Taliban-led political set-up – only if it complies to certain given conditions, such as preserving and respecting the internationally-recognized human and fundamental rights of all Afghans, including women and minorities.
The document that drew little public attention, but signed by the United Nations, the European Union, France, Germany, Italy, Norway, the United Kingdom, and the United States on 9 March 2020 also supports a joint U.S.-Russian agreement not to recognize Taliban’s Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. Such an undertaking not only dictates – and demarcates – Taliban’s political space to manoeuvre, but also stipulates international aspirations that bind the Taliban with globally acceptance norms and good behaviour for future recognition and support. Such a clearly outlined “international wish-list” puts the onus on Taliban to evolve a political dispensation in Afghanistan that adheres to international norms and practices; otherwise the regime may once again be rejected and outcast deserving no financial aid or assistance.
U.S. desire to stay for a prolonged period of time in Afghanistan, no matter in a leaner and more furtive manner, comes from its pledge to continue supporting the Afghan security forces. Had Washington been confident about the future prospects of its peace-deal with the Taliban and the ensuing intra-Afghan dialogue, there was no need to maintain an extraordinarily flabby national army and security force apparatus including a rogue intelligence network (discussed in Part-III of this discussion titled Afghan Civil War 2.0: Return of Revenge).
A realistically practical – and politically evolved – Taliban, on the other hand, also understand the necessity of American goodwill and its largesse for Afghanistan’s stability and economic wellbeing. Thus, despite their insistence upon complete withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan, the Taliban have left enough caveats in their public pronouncements to allow some U.S. troops stationed in Afghanistan, though with the condition of their non-interference in the internal issues of the country.
Observing the docility of a pragmatic Taliban leadership – which may not necessarily reflect in the hardened stance of its junior cadres fighting on ground – demonstrates a renewed understanding about Afghanistan’s new environment and urban population’s aspirations. Thus, while Taliban may not forgive the former warlords from the Northern Alliance, their attitude will be much milder toward ordinary Afghans.
Taliban’s softer stance comes from another reckoning about its Achilles heel to win at the ballot. Despite bringing some civil order and peace during their earlier rule (1996-2001), the madrassa (Islamic seminaries) educated fighters, carrying rigid outlook and medieval mindset could not develop a political system, social service infrastructure, governance and administrative model, or reconstruction of the country for their grassroots politics and popularity. The Islamic Emirate further remained an outcast in the international arena owing to its inflexible stance on the treatment of women, girls’ education, respect for human rights, accommodation for political opponents, and reverence for world heritage. Thus, the militia could not emulate the policies and practices of other Islamist groups like Hamas in Palestine, Hezbollah in Lebanon, Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, or Jamaat-e-Islamis in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Indonesia.
Therefore, while the militia would try to gain its approval to rule from the Loya Jirga, the goodwill of Afghan people would also grant the Taliban necessary legitimacy to govern in any future political arrangement, which they vow to make “inclusive.” The two communications from the Taliban side – first through their (Valentine Day’s) open-letter to the American people on 14 February 2018 followed by Taliban’s deputy emir, Sirajuddin Haqqani’s opinion-piece in the New York Times on 20 February 2020, just days before the deal – had been a carefully orchestrated media outreach to allay international fears about their (medieval) mindset and put to rest apprehensions about their future style of governance.
However, Taliban’s insistence on an Islamic government not only runs contrary to the present-day democratic norms, but also worryingly reminds the world about the continuation of people’s repression under Middle East’s style autocratic regimes, despotic monarchies, and tyrant theocratic Vilayet-e-Faqihs.
Taliban’s Fraternity with Radical Groups
Notwithstanding Taliban’s sharia-based Islamist practices during their earlier reign, the militia needs to be viewed as a nationalist group and not a global terror outfit. Thus, any apprehensions of Taliban supporting or reviving any religious terrorist organization remain unsubstantiated and farfetched.
Intriguingly, the Taliban did not name either al-Qaeda or Daesh (the Islamic State-Khorasan or IS-K) in the peace-deal. However, as wisdom comes through suffering, there is no chance of Taliban supporting another terror-group on Afghan soil. While al-Qaeda has been largely decimated in Afghanistan – though not necessarily elsewhere in the world – it must be kept in mind that the Taliban protected al-Qaeda under the age-old tradition of Pashtunwali (protection of a guest even at the peril of one’s own life). Thus, it can be argued, that despite sharing fundamental Islamic ideology, Taliban and al-Qaeda had never been blood-brothers but friends of convenience or hostage to Pashtun traditions.
Not being a Taliban apologist, but I have maintained all along in my previous analyses on Afghanistan that were the Taliban given any political accommodation in Afghanistan, IS-K,could never have established its tentacles on Afghan soil. Daesh, which has significantly alarmed the regional powers, had also unnerved the Taliban, whose fighters began to break ranks to join the new terror-group, promising more power and money. Mullah Akhtar Mansour, Mullah Omar’s successor as Taliban’s emir had to warn Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi through a letter in June 2015 to stay out of Afghanistan. With Taliban’s reach and influence in the rural areas, Daesh has little scope to expand further.
However, there is no assurance of the Afghan Taliban breaking bond with the Pakistani Taliban, the notorious Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). As Pakistan’s military operation ‘Zarb-e-Azb’ in North Waziristan had uprooted and pushed the TTP, along with al-Qaeda, and Central Asian militant groups into Afghanistan in 2014, the Taliban madrassa-fraternity, ideological mutualism and shared Sharia objectives may not allow the Afghan Taliban to abandon their brethren in distress.
In his 2010’s book Afghanistan: Graveyard of Empires–A New History of the Borderland, David Isby had concluded: “[I]t is widely said that the main cause of problems is solutions, and each solution identified for Afghanistan has the potential to create further problems.” The leap-year’s peace-deal, likewise, needs a leap of faith to materialize; until that time, it will keep peace in Afghanistan leap-years away.
The question, however, remains that if the U.S. could not achieve any strategic gain during the 19-year war, would a continued American presence in Afghanistan serve any purpose? For instance:
1) Restraining Russia and forestalling a renewed Cold War
2) Containing China and its geo-economics through Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)
3) Punishing Iran for a regime-change and stopping it from accessing nuclear technology
4) Preventing (a fragile and nuclear-armed) Pakistan from: (a) economic collapse; (b) its China-embrace as a vassal state; and (c) its drift towards extremism
5) Exterminating Islamic radicalization and terror-groups from the region, or
6) Extracting Afghanistan’s vast mineral deposits
In a detailed account titled What Went Wrong in Afghanistan, Foreign Policy’s Alicia Wittmeyer recorded opinions of eight eminent power-players to find out the reasons behind Washington’s failure. They found the U.S.:
1) Trying to do the impossible with faulty assumptions and misplaced priorities
2) Marginalizing the Pashtun population and isolating the Taliban. Targeting the Pashtun Taliban created unnecessary resentment among the masses because of the aphorism, “All Taliban are Pashtun but all Pashtuns are not Taliban”
3) Allowing Taliban sanctuary in Pakistan. “The U.S. failure to stop Pakistan is particularly egregious because the United States was involved in an almost identical program 30 years ago – with the ISI’s help – against the Soviets in Afghanistan”
4) Erroneously believing Pakistan could change its outlook, priorities and strategic interests in Afghanistan
5) Never developing a political strategy and kept pushing for an unattainable military victory
6) Turning Afghanistan over to the criminals like egocentric warlords, disconnected elites (from masses), indifferent foreign-returned officials, corrupt government functionaries and predatory privileged class
7) Failing to understand the country; its culture and its people in historical and contemporary perspectives as a foreign invader, and
8) Cut and run approach. Announcing to leave in 2014 by essentially abandoning the half-cooked broth
Words – pledges and promises – mean how we interpret them for our own intent and purpose. The leap-year’s peace-deal, likewise, can be summed-up by what Mark Mazzetti had noted in his abovementioned book The Way of the Knife: The CIA, a Secret Army, and a War at the Ends of the Earth: “… instead of the “hammer America now relies on the “scalpel.”
Sayonaras and goodbyes are often sorrowful and onerous. They become all the more difficult after long relationships; partners tend to become used to of each other, with increased inter-dependencies.
Adnan Qaiser can be reached at email@example.com
 (1) The United States and the Taliban have signed a peace deal, a turning point in the 18-year war in Afghanistan. U.S.-Taliban peace deal, The Washington Post, 29 Feb 2020 https://www.washingtonpost.com/context/u-s-taliban-peace-deal/7aab0f58-dd5c-430d-9557-1b6672d889c3/?itid=lk_inline_manual_3&itid=lk_inline_manual_3; PDF Document: https://context-cdn.washingtonpost.com/notes/prod/default/documents/e3bffac0-0a59-4101-baff-1f996b9eac50/note/7d0149f0-c9b7-4ed5-9344-1f16b9df91ec.pdf#page=1; (2) Also see: The signing of a U.S.-Taliban peace deal is historic—but might not end the war in Afghanistan. Sarah Dadouch, Susannah George and Dan Lamothe, U.S. signs peace deal with Taliban agreeing to full withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan, The Washington Post, 29 Feb 2020 https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia_pacific/afghanistan-us-taliban-peace-deal-signing/2020/02/29/b952fb04-5a67-11ea-8efd-0f904bdd8057_story.html; (3) See also: Karen DeYoung, Peace deal with Taliban sets timetable for U.S. exit but no long-term solutions for Afghans, The Washington Post, 29 Feb 2020 https://www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/afghanistan-peace-deal-taliban/2020/02/29/c2d2ae14-5af2-11ea-9000-f3cffee23036_story.html; and (4) Mujib Mashal, Taliban and U.S. Strike Deal to Withdraw American Troops From Afghanistan, The New York Times, 29 Feb 2020 https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/29/world/asia/us-taliban-deal.html
 Lindsay Maizland and Zachary Laub, The Taliban in Afghanistan, Backgrounder, Council on Foreign Relations, 11 Mar 2020 https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/taliban-afghanistan
 Vietnam Agreement…Vietnam Agreement…, The New York Times, 25 Jan 1973 https://www.nytimes.com/1973/01/25/archives/vietnam-agreement.html?searchResultPosition=42
 The Editorial Board, A War Without Winners Winds Down, The New York Times, 29 Feb 2020 https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/29/opinion/taliban-peace-deal-afghanistan.html
 Adnan Qaiser (Author), Afghanistan’s Overstayed Houseguest: US Strategic Regional Interests, South Asia Journal, 7 Jan 2018 http://southasiajournal.net/afghanistans-managed-chaos-us-strategic-regional-designs/
 National Security Strategy of the United States of America, December 2017 https://www.whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/NSS-Final-12-18-2017-0905.pdf; Also see: Michael H. Fuchs, America Doesn’t Need a Grand Strategy, Foreign Policy, 28 Jul 2019 https://foreignpolicy.com/2019/07/28/america-doesnt-need-a-grand-strategy-big-think-trump/
 Helene Cooper, Thomas Gibbons-Neff, Charlie Savage and Eric Schmitt, Pentagon Eyes Africa Drawdown as First Step in Global Troop Shift. The deliberations stem from a push to reduce missions battling distant terrorist groups, and to instead refocus on confronting so-called Great Powers like Russia and China, The New York Times, 24 Dec 2019 https://www.nytimes.com/2019/12/24/world/africa/esper-troops-africa-china.html
 Iraq’s parliament passed on Sunday a resolution calling on the government to end all foreign troop presence in Iraq, as backlash grew after the killing of a top Iranian military commander and an Iraqi militia leader in a US strike in Baghdad. Iraq parliament passes resolution to expel US-led coalition troops from country, France24, 01 Jan 2020 https://www.france24.com/en/20200105-iraq-parliament-passes-resolution-to-expel-us-led-coalition-troops-from-country
 U.S. officials say three service members were killed, including two Americans, and a dozen were injured when a barrage of rockets were fired at a military base in Iraq. Lolita C. Baldor, US officials say US troops killed, injured in Iraq attack, Associated press, ABC News, 11 Mar 2020 https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/wireStory/us-officials-us-troops-killed-injured-iraq-attack-69541762
 Mike Glenn, U.S. forces evacuating smaller bases in Iraq following attacks, The Washington Times, 17 Mar 2020 https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2020/mar/17/us-forces-evacuating-smaller-bases-in-iraq-followi/
 The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) has strategic implications for China-Pakistan, China-India, India-U.S., and U.S.-China relations. U.S. targeted support to Pakistan could prevent Pakistan’s dependence on China, mitigating some of the most negative effects. James Schwemlein, Strategic Implications of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 16 Dec 2019 https://carnegieendowment.org/2019/12/16/strategic-implications-of-china-pakistan-economic-corridor-pub-80611 PDF Report: https://www.usip.org/publications/2019/12/strategic-implications-china-pakistan-economic-corridor
 Adnan Qaiser (Author), China-Pakistan Economic Corridor: Pakistan’s ‘Chinanization’ Or Colonization? Conference of Defence Associations Institute’s On Track magazine, Spring issue, p. 12, 14 Jun 2018 https://cdainstitute.ca/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/ON-Track-Spring-2018-Final-1.pdf
 America’s longest war, the conflict in Afghanistan, has cost $975 billion when 2019 estimates are factored in according to website The Balance. Niall McCarthy, The Annual Cost Of The War In Afghanistan Since 2001 [Infographic], Forbes, 12 Sept 2019 https://www.forbes.com/sites/niallmccarthy/2019/09/12/the-annual-cost-of-the-war-in-afghanistan-since-2001-infographic/#220549b91971
 Mark Mazzetti, The Way of the Knife: The CIA, a Secret Army, and a War at the Ends of the Earth, Penguin Press, New York, 2013, p. 77 https://www.amazon.ca/Way-Knife-Secret-Army-Earth/dp/014312501X
 Some of the criticism on U.S.-Taliban peace-deal included:
(1) Michael Hirsh, Why Afghanistan Is America’s Greatest Strategic Disaster, Foreign Policy, 21 Feb 2020 https://foreignpolicy.com/2020/02/21/afghanistan-war-taliban-peace-america-greatest-strategic-disaster/?utm_source=PostUp&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=19822&utm_term=Editor#39;s%20Picks%20OC&?tpcc=19822;
(2) After 18 years of war, thousands of lives lost, and hundreds of billions of dollars squandered, the United States accomplished precisely nothing. Stephen M. Walt, We Lost the War in Afghanistan. Get Over It., Foreign Policy, 11 Sept 2019 https://foreignpolicy.com/2019/09/11/we-lost-the-war-in-afghanistan-get-over-it/
(3) Inflated threats, concealed costs, and lack of accountability for failure—and the complicity of the foreign-policy establishment—have kept the infinity war going for 18 years. Stephen M. Walt, Everyone Knows America Lost Afghanistan Long Ago, Foreign Policy, 16 Dec 2019 https://foreignpolicy.com/2019/12/16/everyone-knows-america-lost-afghanistan-long-ago/
(4) Joe Felter, Leaving Afghanistan: Pulling Out Without Pulling The Rug Out, War on the Rocks, 19 Feb 2020 https://warontherocks.com/2020/02/leaving-afghanistan-pulling-out-without-pulling-the-rug-out/?utm_source=WOTR+Newsletter&utm_campaign=1dd89275ec-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_10_30_2018_11_23_COPY_01&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_8375be81e9-1dd89275ec-83314819
(5) Michael E. O’Hanlon, On Afghanistan, give peace a chance — but be wary of the Taliban, Brookings Institution, 4 Mar 2020 https://www.brookings.edu/blog/order-from-chaos/2020/03/04/on-afghanistan-give-peace-a-chance-but-be-wary-of-the-taliban/
(6) Vanda Felbab-Brown, What’s in store after the US-Taliban deal, Brookings Institution, 4 Mar 2020 https://www.brookings.edu/blog/order-from-chaos/2020/03/04/whats-in-store-after-the-us-taliban-deal/
(7) Mark Esper, Defense Secretary Mark Esper: This is our chance to bring troops home from Afghanistan for good, The Washington Post, 29 Feb 2020 https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2020/02/29/defense-secretary-mark-esper-this-is-our-chance-bring-troops-home-afghanistan-good/
(8) Ankit Panda, Peace Is Easier Said Than Done in Afghanistan, The Diplomat, 20 Mar 2020 https://diplomat.substack.com/p/peace-is-easier-said-than-done-in?token=eyJ1c2VyX2lkIjozNjEzMzksInBvc3RfaWQiOjMyMzE2MCwiXyI6ImZLejJIIiwiaWF0IjoxNTg0NzM4OTI3LCJleHAiOjE1ODQ3NDI1MjcsImlzcyI6InB1Yi04NTkiLCJzdWIiOiJwb3N0LXJlYWN0aW9uIn0.cRGIzz9EXIagD0vBmyQqz3yvT0Pv_AUHWGbSPIy5dcI
(9) John R. Allen, Bruce Riedel, Michael E. O’Hanlon, Vanda Felbab-Brown, and Madiha Afzal, Around the halls: Brookings experts discuss the implications of the US-Taliban agreement, Brookings Institution, 5 Mar 2020 https://www.brookings.edu/blog/order-from-chaos/2020/03/05/around-the-halls-brookings-experts-discuss-the-implications-of-the-us-taliban-agreement/?utm_campaign=Foreign%20Policy&utm_source=hs_email&utm_medium=email&utm_content=84391537
(10) Husain Haqqani, Afghanistan is not Vietnam. US should know that walking away won’t be that easy, The Print, 5 Mar 2020 https://theprint.in/opinion/afghanistan-is-not-vietnam-us-should-know-that-walking-away-wont-be-that-easy/375704/
(11) Emran Feroz, Afghans Wonder: Is the Peace Deal Just for Americans? Foreign Policy, 6 Mar 2020 https://foreignpolicy.com/2020/03/06/afghans-wonder-taliban-peace-deal-americans/?utm_source=PostUp&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=20059&utm_term=Editor#39;s%20Picks%20OC&?tpcc=20059
(12) Stefanie Glinski, U.S.-Taliban Peace Deal Under Fire, Foreign Policy, 4 Mar 2020 https://foreignpolicy.com/2020/03/04/us-taliban-peace-deal-under-fire-kabul-dispatch/?utm_source=PostUp&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=20054&utm_term=Flashpoints%20OC&
(13) Susan E. Rice, An Afghan Bargain Likely to Fail, The New York Times, 4 Mar 2020 https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/04/opinion/afghan-bargain-fail.html?auth=link-dismiss-google1tap&searchResultPosition=4
(14) The signing of a U.S.-Taliban peace deal is historic—but might not end the war in Afghanistan. Sarah Dadouch, Susannah George and Dan Lamothe, U.S. signs peace deal with Taliban agreeing to full withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan, The Washington Post, 29 Feb 2020 https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia_pacific/afghanistan-us-taliban-peace-deal-signing/2020/02/29/b952fb04-5a67-11ea-8efd-0f904bdd8057_story.html
(15) Karen DeYoung, Peace deal with Taliban sets timetable for U.S. exit but no long-term solutions for Afghans, The Washington Post, 29 Feb 2020 https://www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/afghanistan-peace-deal-taliban/2020/02/29/c2d2ae14-5af2-11ea-9000-f3cffee23036_story.html
(16) The United States and the Taliban have signed a peace deal, a turning point in the 18-year war in Afghanistan. U.S.-Taliban peace deal, The Washington Post, 29 Feb 2020 https://www.washingtonpost.com/context/u-s-taliban-peace-deal/7aab0f58-dd5c-430d-9557-1b6672d889c3/?itid=lk_inline_manual_3&itid=lk_inline_manual_3; PDF Document: https://context-cdn.washingtonpost.com/notes/prod/default/documents/e3bffac0-0a59-4101-baff-1f996b9eac50/note/7d0149f0-c9b7-4ed5-9344-1f16b9df91ec.pdf#page=1
 Joe Felter, Leaving Afghanistan: Pulling Out Without Pulling The Rug Out, The War on the Rocks, 19 Feb 2020 https://warontherocks.com/2020/02/leaving-afghanistan-pulling-out-without-pulling-the-rug-out/?utm_source=WOTR+Newsletter&utm_campaign=1dd89275ec-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_10_30_2018_11_23_COPY_01&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_8375be81e9-1dd89275ec-83314819; Also see: Katya Drozdova and Joseph H. Felter, Leaving Afghanistan: Enduring Lessons from the Soviet Politburo, Journal of Cold War Studies, Volume 21 | Issue 4 | Fall 2019, p.31-70 https://www.mitpressjournals.org/doi/pdfplus/10.1162/jcws_a_00906
 Agreement for Bringing Peace to Afghanistan between the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan which is not recognized by the United States as a state and is known as the Taliban and the United States of America, February 29, 2020 https://www.state.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/Agreement-For-Bringing-Peace-to-Afghanistan-02.29.20.pdf
 “They have no intention of abiding by their agreement,” one official said. Trump said Friday, “Countries have to take care of themselves.” Courtney Kube, Ken Dilanian and Dan De Luce, U.S. has persuasive intel Taliban do not intend to abide by terms of peace deal, officials say, NBC News, 6 Mar 2020 https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/national-security/officials-u-s-has-persuasive-intel-taliban-does-not-intend-n1150051
 Summary of the 2018 National Defense Strategy of the United states of America: Sharpening the American Military’s Competitive Edge, United States Department of Defence https://dod.defense.gov/Portals/1/Documents/pubs/2018-National-Defense-Strategy-Summary.pdf
 Veronica Stracqualursi, Nicole Gaouette, Barbara Starr and Kylie Atwood, US formally withdraws from nuclear treaty with Russia and prepares to test new missile, CNN Politics, 2 Aug 2019 https://www.cnn.com/2019/08/02/politics/nuclear-treaty-inf-us-withdraws-russia/index.html; Also see: INF nuclear treaty: US pulls out of Cold War-era pact with Russia, BBC News, 2 Aug 2019 https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-49198565
 Space Force: Trump officially launches new US military service, BBC News, 21 Dec 2019 https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-50876429; Also see: AFP, US Space Force launches first mission, Dawn, 28 Mar 2020 https://www.dawn.com/news/1544360/us-space-force-launches-first-mission; And see also: US Space Force launches satellite after short delay, BBC News, 27 Mar 2020 https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-52057696
 Tom O’connor, U.S. Tests First Hypersonic Glide Body, Challenging Russia’s Advanced Nuclear Weapons Lead, Newsweek, 20 Mar 2020 https://www.newsweek.com/us-hypersonic-glide-challenging-russia-lead-1493441
 Khalid Nekzad, Key US, NATO Officials to Visit Kabul Saturday, Tolo News, 28 Feb 2010 https://tolonews.com/afghanistan/key-us-nato-officials-visit-kabul-saturday
 Ben Knight, Germany to extend Afghanistan military mission, DW News, 13 Feb 2019 https://www.dw.com/en/germany-to-extend-afghanistan-military-mission/a-47501552
 Pakistan has a ‘very important’ role in implementing Doha accord: US general, Dawn, 14 Mar 2020 https://www.dawn.com/news/1540778/pakistan-has-a-very-important-role-in-implementing-doha-accord-us-general
 Matt Schiavenza, What Exactly Does It Mean That the U.S. Is Pivoting to Asia?, The Atlantic, 15 Apr 2013 https://www.theatlantic.com/china/archive/2013/04/what-exactly-does-it-mean-that-the-us-is-pivoting-to-asia/274936/
 Joshua Kucera, The New Silk Road? The Diplomat, 11 Nov 2011 https://thediplomat.com/2011/11/the-new-silk-road/?allpages=yes
 Defense Secretary James N. Mattis today stressed the importance of the Indian Ocean region of U.S. Pacific Command’s area of responsibility and announced that the Defense Department is renaming the combatant command as U.S. Indo-Pacific Command. Jim Garamone, Pacific Command Change Highlights Growing Importance of Indian Ocean Area, U.S. Department of Defence, 30 May 2018 https://www.defense.gov/Explore/News/Article/Article/1535808/pacific-command-change-highlights-growing-importance-of-indian-ocean-area/
 It’s the first call between an American president and the militant group. Conor Finnegan, In historic call, Trump speaks to Taliban leader amid concerns about deal with US, ABC News, 3 March 2020 https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/historic-call-trump-speaks-taliban-leader-amid-concerns/story?id=69366059
 Graham Allison, What Xi Jinping Wants, The Atlantic, 31 May 2017 https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2017/05/what-china-wants/528561/
 Tom Phillips, Xi Jinping heralds ‘new era’ of Chinese power at Communist party congress, The Guardian, 18 Oct 2017 https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/oct/18/xi-jinping-speech-new-era-chinese-power-party-congress; Also see: Xinhua, Full text of Xi Jinping’s report at 19th CPC National Congress, 3 Nov 2017 http://www.xinhuanet.com/english/special/2017-11/03/c_136725942.htm; Speech Text (PDF): http://www.xinhuanet.com/english/download/Xi_Jinping’s_report_at_19th_CPC_National_Congress.pdf
 Thucydides, The History of the Peloponnesian War, Written 431 B.C.E, Translated by Richard Crawley http://classics.mit.edu/Thucydides/pelopwar.1.first.html (Text version: http://classics.mit.edu/Thucydides/pelopwar.mb.txt)
 Graham Allison, The Thucydides Trap: Are the U.S. and China Headed for War?, The Atlantic, 24 Sept 2015 https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2015/09/united-states-china-war-thucydides-trap/406756/
 Paul D. Miller, The Long War, Obama’s Failed Legacy in Afghanistan, The American Interest, Volume 11, Number 5, 15 Feb 2016 https://www.the-american-interest.com/2016/02/15/obamas-failed-legacy-in-afghanistan/
 President Obama announced that he will leave 9,800 US troops in Afghanistan through much of next year and backed away from ending America’s longest war until at least his final year in office. Spencer Ackerman. Obama announces plan to keep 9,800 US troops in Afghanistan after 2014, The Guardian, 27 May 2014 https://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/may/27/obama-us-afghanistan-force-2014
 The Nobel Peace Prize for 2009, Barack H. Obama, The Nobel Prize https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/peace/2009/press-release/; Also see: Text of Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize speech, CBC News, 10 Dec 2009 https://www.cbc.ca/news/world/text-of-obama-s-nobel-peace-prize-speech-1.808630; and See also: Nobel secretary regrets Obama peace prize, BBC, 17 Sept 2015 https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-34277960
 A strategy that went from a “good war” to the shorthand “Afghan good enough” reflects the president’s coming to terms with what was possible in Afghanistan. Mark Landler, The Afghan war and the Evolution of Obama, The New York Times, 1 Jan 2017 https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/01/world/asia/obama-afghanistan-war.html
 Wilder Alejandro Sanchez, Central Asia in 2018: What’s the Future of the C5+1?. Geopolitical Monitor, 11 Jul 2018 https://www.geopoliticalmonitor.com/central-asia-in-2018-whats-the-future-of-the-c51/
 Zhao Mingwen, Shanghai Cooperation Organization: A New Stage, New Challenges, and A New Journey, China Institute of International Studies, 8 Oct 2018 http://www.ciis.org.cn/english/2018-08/10/content_40456539.htm; Also see: Eurasia’s Shanghai Cooperation Organization has expanded its agenda to include wide-reaching security and economic initiatives, but it remains to be seen if the bloc’s members can develop and implement unified policy. Backgrounder by Eleanor Albert, The Shanghai Cooperation Organization, Council on Foreign Relations, 14 Oct 2015 https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/shanghai-cooperation-organization
 China and Russia have grown increasingly close over the past decade, but the imbalance of power between Beijing and Moscow is increasing. Although their partnership in Central Asia is stable for now, Chinese economic, political, and soft power is shifting the geopolitical landscape. Paul Stronski, China and Russia’s Uneasy Partnership in Central Asia, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, East Asia Forum, 29 Mar 2018 https://carnegieendowment.org/2018/03/29/china-and-russia-s-uneasy-partnership-in-central-asia-pub-75984
 Joint Declaration between the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the United States of America for Bringing Peace to Afghanistan, State Ministry for Peace, 29 Feb 2020 https://smp.gov.af/en/joint-declaration-between-islamic-republic-afghanistan-and-united-states-america-bringing-peace
 Frud Bezhan, ‘Afghanistan Has Changed’: Post-2001 Generation On Prospects Of Peace With Taliban, Radio Free Europe, 19 Apr 2019 https://www.rferl.org/a/afghanistan-has-changed-post-2001-generation-on-prospects-of-peace-with-taliban/29892071.html
 Greg Myre, Everything You Wanted To Know About An Afghan Loya Jirga, NPR, 21 Nov 2013 https://www.npr.org/sections/parallels/2013/11/21/246536898/everything-you-wanted-to-know-about-an-afghan-loya-jirga
 “We want an inclusive government because that will guarantee a stable government in the country. Otherwise we will have fighting.” Saphora Smith, Ali Arouzi and Mushtaq Yusufzai, Taliban aiming for an ‘inclusive’ Afghan government, spokesman says, NBC News, 20 Dec 2019 https://www.nbcnews.com/news/world/taliban-aiming-inclusive-afghan-government-spokesman-says-n1103656
 Harriet Alexander, Taliban publishes open letter to Americans, The Telegraph, 14 Feb 2018 https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/02/14/taliban-publish-open-letter-americans/; Also see: Ayaz Gul, Afghan Taliban Pen Open Letter to Americans, Call for Dialogue, Voice of America, https://www.voanews.com/east-asia-pacific/afghan-taliban-pen-open-letter-americans-call-dialogue
 Mr. Haqqani is the deputy leader of the Taliban. I am convinced that the killing and the maiming must stop, the deputy leader of the Taliban writes. Sirajuddin Haqqani, What We, the Taliban, WantWhat We, the Taliban, Want, The New York Times, 20 Feb 2020 https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/20/opinion/taliban-afghanistan-war-haqqani.html
 Bill Roggio, Taliban religious decree calls for its emir to rule ‘Islamic government’ in Afghanistan, FDD’s Long War Journal, 8 Mar 2020 https://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2020/03/taliban-religious-decree-calls-for-its-emir-to-rule-islamic-government-in-afghanistan.php
 Anthony Bubalo, The Path of Least Resilience: Autocratic Rule and External Powers in the Middle East, Lowy Institute, 11 Mar 2020 https://www.lowyinstitute.org/publications/path-least-resilience-autocratic-rule-and-external-powers-middle-east
 Sean Yom, How Middle Eastern monarchies survived the Arab Spring, The Washington Post, 29 Jul 2016 https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2016/07/29/the-emerging-monarchies-club-in-the-middle-east/
 Kasra Aarabi, What Is Velayat-e Faqih?, Explainer, Analyst, Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, 20 Mar 2019 https://institute.global/policy/what-velayat-e-faqih
 Saphora Smith, Mushtaq Yusufzai, Dan De Luce and Ahmed Mengl, U.S. sees Taliban deal as exit from Afghanistan. Militants see it as victory over the superpower, NBC News, 3 Mar 2020 https://www.nbcnews.com/news/world/u-s-sees-taliban-deal-exit-afghanistan-militants-see-it-n1146361
 Backgrounder, Islamic State Khorasan (IS-K), Center for Strategic and International Studies, 9 Nov 2018 https://www.csis.org/programs/transnational-threats-project/terrorism-backgrounders/islamic-state-khorasan-k; PDF version: https://csis-prod.s3.amazonaws.com/s3fs-public/181113_IS-K_Backgrounder.pdf?LgtpuuPVxjdGU6g_idQlIH4cI1ILgZ0t
 Bruce Riedel, Al-Qaida today, 18 years after 9/11, Brookings Institution, 10 Sept 2019 https://www.brookings.edu/blog/order-from-chaos/2019/09/10/al-qaida-today-18-years-after-9-11/
 Bruce Hoffman and Jacob Ware, Al-Qaeda: Threat Or Anachronism?, The War on the Rocks, 12 Mar 2020 https://warontherocks.com/2020/03/al-qaeda-threat-or-anachronism/?utm_source=WOTR+Newsletter&utm_campaign=2305ef8193-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_10_30_2018_11_23_COPY_01&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_8375be81e9-2305ef8193-83314819
 Yasmeen Aftab Ali, Understanding Pashtunwali, The Nation, 6 Aug 2013 https://nation.com.pk/06-Aug-2013/understanding-pashtunwali
 New Afghan president warns of ‘terrible threat’ from Islamic State by Patricia Zengerle, Reuters, 25 Mar 2015 https://www.reuters.com/article/us-afghanistan-usa/new-afghan-president-warns-of-terrible-threat-from-islamic-state-idUSKBN0ML27220150325
 Eilish O’gara, Taliban Letter Warns Isis to Stay Out of Afghanistan, Newsweek, 16 Jun 2015 https://www.newsweek.com/taliban-letter-warns-isis-stay-out-afghanistan-328820
 Taliban warn ISIS leader not to interfere in Afghanistan By AFP Kabul, Al-Arabia, 16 Jun 2015 https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2015/06/16/Taliban-warn-ISIS-leader-not-to-interfere-in-Afghanistan-.html
 The Tehrik-i-Taliban is the largest militant organization in Pakistan that operates under the larger umbrella of the Pakistani Taliban. Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, Centre for International Security and Cooperation, Stanford University https://cisac.fsi.stanford.edu/mappingmilitants/profiles/tehrik-i-taliban-pakistan; See also: Hassan Abbas, A Profile of Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School, Jan 2008 https://www.belfercenter.org/publication/profile-tehrik-i-taliban-pakistan
 Pakistan begins long-awaited offensive to root out militants from border region, Jon Boone, The Guardian, 15 Jun 2014 https://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jun/15/pakistan-offensive-militants-north-waziristan
 David Isby, Afghanistan: Graveyard of Empires–A New History of the Borderland, Pegasus Books, New York (2010), pp. 395 https://www.amazon.com/Afghanistan-Graveyard-Empires-History-Borderland/dp/B0085SCZVG
 Mark Mazzetti, The Way of the Knife: The CIA, a Secret Army, and a War at the Ends of the Earth, Penguin Press, New York, 2013, pp. 5-6 https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/311164/the-way-of-the-knife-by-mark-mazzetti/