EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: President Trump’s decision to withdraw half of all US troops in Afghanistan will likely be seen as a sign of weakness by the Taliban, who might subsequently feel less motivated to accept a ceasefire proposal. For Pakistan’s security establishment, Trump’s desperation to ensure a less ignominious exit from Afghanistan represents a chance to engage with Washington on its own terms.
Three momentous changes were recently announced by the White House in rapid succession. First, we learned that President Donald Trump is pulling American troops out of Syria. Next, James Mattis resigned as secretary of defense, in part as a response to the Syria decision. And finally, Trump announced plans to withdraw half of all US troops from Afghanistan. That last decision has ignited intense debate among members of the policy and strategic community about the future of Afghanistan.
Trump’s intention to withdraw became clear when he appointed Zalmay Khalilzad as US Special Representative to fast-track the Afghan reconciliation process. But Trump’s sudden move is likely to throw a wrench into Khalilzad’s efforts at a time when the US needs to demonstrate greater resolve to force the Afghan Taliban to the negotiating table. The Taliban have always insisted on a complete withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan.