Speed Reads

setting the stage

The 3 U.S. negotiating errors that paved the way for the Taliban's return to power

The Taliban didn't regain control of Afghanistan overnight, and while their return to power was years in the making, the Trump administration's agreement with the group last year helped speed up the process, Lisa Curtis, the director of the Indo-Pacific Security Program at the Center for a New American Security, writes for Foreign Affairs.

Curtis zeroed in on three errors the negotiation team, led by Zalmay Khalilzad, made out of "desperation to conclude a deal" and put an end to the decades-long U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan. The first, she writes, was believing the Taliban would eventually sit down with the Afghan government to hash out a long-term political settlement. This led Washington to exclude Kabul from their talks with the Taliban in Qatar, which Curtis argues "prematurely conferred legitimacy on the" insurgents.

The next mistake, in Curtis' opinion, was that the U.S. didn't "condition the pace of talks on Taliban violence levels." Negotiations continued even amid escalating violence on the ground in Afghanistan, and ultimately the Taliban only had to "reduce violence for six days before signing the agreement." Finally, Curtis believes the Trump administration was operating under "wishful thinking" that the Taliban was seriously interested in political negotiations instead of fighting their way back to power. The U.S., therefore, forced Afghan President Ashraf Ghani to release 5,000 Taliban prisoners without simultaneously securing a "commensurate concession" from the group. 

"The United States would have been far better off negotiating its withdrawal directly with the Afghan government, something that Ghani himself proposed in early 2019," Curtis writes. "By doing so, the United States would have avoided demoralizing its Afghan partners as Washington pulled back U.S. forces." Read about how Curtis thinks the Biden administration should deal with the Taliban going forward at Foreign Affairs.