ISLAMABAD - Two influential members of the United States Senate have introduced legislation that would end the nearly two-decade long war in Afghanistan. The move comes at a time when U.S. officials are engaged in direct talks with Taliban insurgents to negotiate a draw-down plan and counterterrorism guarantees.
The bill's sponsors, Republican Senator Rand Paul and Democratic Senator Tom Udall, explained in a statement accompanying the 2019 American Forces Going Home After Noble Service (AFGHAN) Act that it would have Washington declare victory in Afghanistan.
“Within 45 days, a plan will be formulated for an orderly withdrawal and turnover of facilities to the Afghan government, while also setting a framework for political reconciliation to be implemented by Afghans in accordance with the Afghan Constitution. Within a year, all U.S. forces will be withdrawn from Afghanistan,” it said.
“Endless war weakens our national security, robs this and future generations through skyrocketing debt, and creates more enemies to threaten us,” the statement quoted Senator Paul as saying. The mission of punishing al-Qaida for orchestrating the 9/11 attacks in the United States has been achieved and the time has come to end the long-running war, he noted.
Paul said the U.S. military has lost more than 2,300 service members since the start of the war in October 2001, with another 20,000 wounded in action. Additionally, the Afghan war has cost the U.S. "$2 trillion, with the war currently costing over $51 billion a year," an amount that Paul said can be redirected to domestic priorities.
“For over 17 years, our soldiers have gone above and beyond what has been asked of them in Afghanistan. It is time to declare the victory we achieved long ago, bring them home, and put America’s needs first,” he stressed.
The statement quoted Senator Udall as noting that soon U.S. soldiers will begin deploying to Afghanistan to fight in a war that began before they were born. “As we face this watershed moment, it’s past time to change our approach to the longest war in our country’s history,” said Udall.
Senator Paul in a video message he released prior to introducing the new legislation highlighted instances where hundreds of millions of U.S. taxpayers dollars have gone wasted on rebuilding projects.
“We have spent $43 million on a natural gas station even though no one has a car that runs on natural gas in Afghanistan… $210 million went to build a new Afghan government building,” he noted.
“My question is: When are they [Afghans] going to pay for their own stuff? The list is ongoing and incredibly insulting to American taxpayers. It’s time to declare our mission over and our war won. It’s time to build here, not there.”
The proposed legislation comes at a time when the Trump administration is engaged in direct talks with Taliban insurgents to terminate America’s longest-running oversees military intervention. President Donald Trump in his State of the Union Speech announced he would consider a troop reduction if progress is made in talks with the Afghan insurgent group.
Peace talks with Taliban
The latest round of peace negotiations with the Taliban is currently underway in Qatar. The U.S. team is being led by special reconciliation envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad. Neither side, however, have revealed whether a breakthrough has been achieved.
The dialogue process has gained momentum since late last fall and both sides have spoken about making progress, though they have made few details public.
The Taliban says the talks with U.S. negotiators have primarily focused on details of a foreign troop withdrawal and post-withdrawal guarantees, including that the insurgent group would not allow terrorists to use Afghan soil for future attacks against the United States and its allies.
For his part, Khalilzad has stated that he is also seeking assurances from the Taliban to cease hostilities and engage in an intra-Afghan political reconciliation with the government in Kabul.
The Taliban, which controls or contests more than 50 percent of the war-ravaged country, refuses to talk to the Afghan government.
Insurgent leaders insist they have neither discussed a cease-fire nor any future political happenings with U.S. interlocutors, saying they are "matters Afghans themselves have to resolve” without any foreign interference.
The Taliban has not slowed down its battlefield attacks despite an unusually harsh winter and insurgents are just weeks away from announcing their so-called annual “spring offensive” of intensified hostilities, inflicting more casualties on combatants and Afghan civilians.
The 17-year-old conflict is estimated to have killed around 150,000 people, including local and coalition forces, insurgents, U.S contractors and Afghan civilians. The United Nations documented almost 4,000 Afghan civilian deaths in 2018, the highest ever recorded in a decade.
The U.S. invasion of Afghanistan ousted the Taliban from power 17 years ago. The apparent urgency to pull out U.S. forces has alarmed critics in Afghanistan who say it would embolden the Taliban not to show flexibility in ongoing talks and instead focus on its military campaign to try to regain power.