The troop withdrawal agreement between the US and the Taliban now looks almost certain — with a nod from President Trump being the only thing awaited. A confirmation to this effect has come from none other than Zalmay Khalilzad, the chief US negotiator. Khalilzad says that a draft agreement will lead to the withdrawal of US troops from five bases in Afghanistan within 135 days provided the Taliban meet conditions. If a deal is done, it will set the Afghan endgame rolling. Withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan would mark the beginning of the end of America’s longest war which broke out on Oct 7, 2001, to avenge the terrorist attacks of Sept 11, 2001, and which has cost Americans billions of dollars besides the lives of more than 2,300 soldiers.
At its peak in 2010-2011, the US troops on the Afghan soil exceeded 100,000. Under Obama, the number went down to 8,400 by 2016. In August 2017, Trump sent more troops to Afghanistan in a strategy to train and assist Afghan soldiers, raising the figure to 14,000. Now, as part of a withdrawal deal, Trump is all set to bring down the number — reportedly to 5,400. As for the overall cost of war to the US, there are no official figures. However, a Pentagon announcement made in 2018 does give some idea. It estimated the US war bill at $45 billion in that year alone, giving the breakup of the money allocated under various heads, like for the US troops in Afghanistan, the Afghan forces, economic aid for the country, besides wasteful spending like on planes not for use in Afghanistan, unused command and control centers, etc. Experts say that adding up the costs for 18 years, the US war bill is estimated to range from $841 billion to trillions, depending on the number of heads taken into account.
Despite such a huge sum and such a strong force, the Taliban now rule even a larger part of the land than they did when the war had broken out. It’s true that wars resolve no dispute and every war ends at the dialogue table.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 5th, 2019.