Afghanistan

Children play on swings outside the Kart-e-Sakhi shrine in Kabul, Afghanistan, Tuesday, Aug. 13, 2019. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)

The Trump administration should heed U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham’s warning that any peace deal with the Taliban that results in a complete withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan would open the door to a return of terrorist groups that target the United States and lead to a surge in international terrorism.

President Donald Trump, who makes no secret of his desire to withdraw American forces from Afghanistan as soon as possible, met privately with his top national security and military advisers Friday for a briefing on a nearly done peace deal with the Taliban.

Details of the peace plan being negotiated with the Taliban by U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad remained secret, but Sen. Graham told the editorial staff of The Post and Courier that briefings he has received on the plan raise a major concern that the United States may pull out of the war-torn country too early.

In words meant to be a warning to President Trump, Sen. Graham, R-S.C., said, “This would be a bigger mistake than the Iran nuclear deal. ... It would be worse than what [President Barack] Obama did in Iraq.”

President Obama’s decision to remove all U.S. troops from Iraq in 2011 led to the rise of ISIS in 2014 followed by four years of destructive fighting. U.S. forces returned to Iraq 5 years ago and there are no current plans to withdraw them.

Some reports have said that the peace plan promises the initial withdrawal of about 6,000 U.S. troops to be followed by talks in Oslo, Norway, between the Taliban and the elected government of Afghanistan. Sen. Graham said that withdrawal is already nearly complete. The Pentagon does not publish figures on U.S troop strength in Afghanistan.

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Depending on what happens next, the plan reportedly promises the remaining 8,000 U.S. troops would then be withdrawn. Most of those troops are engaged in counter-insurgency support to the Afghan armed forces. Although not on the front line, U.S. forces are exposed to danger. About nine U.S. service personnel have been killed in Afghanistan this year.

We agree with Sen. Graham that removing the essential counter-insurgency forces would be a mistake. Few observers believe the Taliban would adhere to any peace plan or keep their promise not to allow terrorist groups such as al-Qaida and ISIS to set up bases in Afghanistan. A small American counter-insurgency force is the best guarantee of any peace deal.

Given Mr. Trump’s desire to reduce U.S. exposure in Afghanistan, that poses a hard choice. The president should choose carefully and opt for a peace deal with guarantees that include a continued U.S. presence in support of the elected government.

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