Afghanistan is demanding long-term commitments from the winner of Tuesday’s election, including support for security and the building of society, as both presidential candidates promise to end the longest running war in the United States.
For Kabul, it is about more than the conflict.
“The partnership between the U.S. and Afghanistan is based on mutual security interests and is therefore characterized only by the fact that the longest war is all too easy,” Afghan Ambassador to the U.S. Roya Rahmani told Washington Newsday.
“This partnership has been incredibly productive in fighting terrorism and curbing the spread of violent extremism,” she added. “We have achieved so much together, from empowering women to developing democratic institutions and strengthening the Afghan security forces so that we can be self-sufficient. All these achievements serve as an insurance policy for the long-term security of Americans”.
In 19 years of war between the Afghan government and the Taliban, an Islamist movement that had allied itself with al-Qaeda at the time of the September 11, 2001 attacks, nearly 2,500 U.S. citizens, hundreds of foreigners and tens of thousands of Afghans have been killed. Although the Taliban have been in the sights of a US-led coalition for almost two decades, they still control large parts of the country and keep hopes of a military solution in the distant future.
As the third US leader to oversee the war in Afghanistan, President Donald Trump has chosen to negotiate with the group. Although the deadly violence continues, his administration has succeeded in bringing the two rival factions around the table for the first time.
However, since Trump has promised to withdraw the troops by Christmas, there is concern that regardless of who wins the U.S. elections, a hasty withdrawal after a generation of wars could de facto serve as a victory for the Taliban.
“We understand American fatigue, but the withdrawal must be measured and strategic to preserve the gains for which Americans and Afghans have sacrificed so much,” Rahmani said. “Without a conditional withdrawal, the Taliban would lack the incentive to commit fully to the ongoing peace process.
This means broadening the breadth of relations between Washington and Kabul.
“We are all working towards an end state that will transform the Afghan-American partnership from a purely security-oriented relationship into a strategic, security and economic one,” she argued, “In this way, if the US wants to withdraw completely, it will not be used as a declaration of victory for those who have killed Americans and their allies alongside their Afghan comrades over the past 19 years.
Taliban spokesman Muhammad Naeem declined Washington Newsday’s request for comment.
Earlier this month, CBS News quoted an unnamed senior Taliban leader who said he hoped “Trump will win the election and end the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan,” in a comment originally mistakenly attributed to Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid.
The group has agreed to speak with Afghan officials only on the condition that a complete withdrawal of the U.S. military is on the table. In return, the Taliban are seeking a power-sharing agreement in which they would agree to reject al-Qaeda and the militant group Islamic State (ISIS).
The Taliban, officially the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, preceded U.S. intervention in the country, but its roots lie in historic U.S. interests there.
The organization was formed in the 1990s as the leading faction of the mujahideen, who defeated a Soviet-backed government after decades of war in which the Afghan opposition received backing and support from the CIA. In the final years of the conflict, al-Qaeda also emerged in Afghanistan, composed mainly of Arab volunteers led by people like Saudi national Osama bin Laden and Egyptian Ayman al-Zawahiri.
Bin Laden was killed in a Navy Seal Team Six raid on his Pakistani compound in 2011 ordered by former President Barack Obama. Zawahiri is still at large and his whereabouts are officially unknown.
The U.S. continues to target al-Qaida officials in several countries, including parts of Afghanistan and Syria, where Trump oversaw the Army Delta Force operation that led to the death of ISIS-Ch