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Debate Flares Over Afghanistan as Trump Considers Troop Withdrawal
From www.nytimes.com Michael Crowley
17-08-2019 - WASHINGTON — President Trump met with top national security officials on Friday to review near-final plans for withdrawing American troops from Afghanistan, a prospect that has already prompted fierce political debate but could offer Mr. Trump a compelling talking point for his 2020 re-election campaign.
The president and his advisers gathered at his golf club in New Jersey to assess a deal reached with Afghan insurgents by his special envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, during several weeks of negotiations in Qatar. Mr. Trump is a longtime skeptic of the United States’ 18-year military presence in Afghanistan and campaigned against expensive foreign interventions.
His decision point on Afghanistan, and the widespread belief that he is impatient to begin a withdrawal before the next election, has already kicked off an argument in Washington about whether an exit would amount to a premature retreat or a crucial step toward long-overdue peace. That debate scrambles partisan lines, with some prominent Republicans warning that leaving would be reckless, while top Democrats applaud the idea of concluding the war in Afghanistan, a goal that eluded President Barack Obama.
For Mr. Trump, initiating a departure from Afghanistan would allow a president who once promised to “bomb the hell out of” terrorists and has spoken of wiping Afghanistan “off the face of the earth” to present himself as a peacemaker.
That could be particularly useful at a moment when his nuclear diplomacy with North Korea has achieved little tangible promise and his “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran has failed in its goal of bringing Tehran to the negotiating table, said Vali Nasr, a professor of international relations at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies.
“This is as close as Afghanistan has been to a political settlement to end this war,” Mr. Nasr said. “I do think if a deal is signed, Mr. Trump says that we can talk to our enemies and we can cut a deal with them. And to actually get a deal with the Taliban may domestically compensate for the lack of a deal with North Korea or Iran.”
But skeptics of the agreement — which has not been finalized and could still fall apart or be rejected by Mr. Trump — fear it is meant more for the American political calendar than for the complex realities of the Afghan conflict and the enduring terrorist threat against the United States, and warn that it could end in disaster for both countries.
“The withdrawal is coming. It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when or how fast,” said Thomas Joscelyn, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. “My sense of it, though I can’t prove it, is that it’s all over with by Election Day 2020.”
Several people familiar with the agreement say that it provides for the phased withdrawal of thousands of American troops from Afghanistan, likely in a first step of 5,000, over a period of about two years or less. In exchange, the Taliban would renounce ties to international terrorism and promise not to harbor or assist groups like Al Qaeda or the Islamic State. That would address what has long been the United States’ stated mission in the country: to prevent Afghanistan from becoming a home base for terrorists who want to strike the West.
//www.nytimes.com/2019/08/16/us/politics/trump-afghanistan-troop-withdrawal.html

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