Rushed Afghan Deal Could Aid Terror Groups, U.S. Watchdog Says

A rushed peace deal in Afghanistan could leave millions of unemployed men at risk of being recruited by terrorist groups and criminal gangs, according to a Pentagon watchdog who’s been tracking the war 18 years after the U.S. invaded to oust the Taliban.

Any effort to reach a peace deal between the government in Kabul and the Taliban must include a plan to reintegrate fighters into civilian life after decades of war, the U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, or SIGAR, said in a report published late Wednesday.

“It is reasonable to assume that millions of unemployed young men will remain at risk for recruitment by criminal groups and terrorist organizations,” according to Inspector General John Sopko. “For lasting peace, various state-aligned, non-state, and illegal armed groups must also demobilize and transition to civilian life. Not including those groups could deter the Taliban from demobilizing and reintegrating.”

Unbeknownst to almost everyone, the major Taliban leaders and, separately, the President of Afghanistan, were going to secretly meet with me at Camp David on Sunday. They were coming to the United States tonight. Unfortunately, in order to build false leverage, they admitted to..
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 7, 2019

Talks between the U.S. and the Taliban broke done earlier this month when Donald Trump canceled secret meetings with Taliban leaders and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani at the presidential retreat at Camp David, Maryland. That setback raised the prospect that Trump won’t be able to deliver on his campaign pledge to bring troops home — or that if he does the result will be revived Taliban rule with no assurances the group would curb terrorists.

The Americans had been negotiating directly with Taliban forces in an effort to deliver on the troop withdrawal pledge. Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. envoy for Afghan reconciliation, had sought an agreement that provided for the gradual withdrawal of U.S. and allied forces if the Taliban provide assurances that terrorist groups such as Islamic State and al-Qaeda aren’t permitted to stage attacks from Afghan territory.
Sidelined Officials

Afghan authorities have been mostly sidelined in the process, even as the Taliban have escalated attacks. The Afghan ambassador to the U.S., Roya Rahmani, has dismissed the idea that the peace process could continue under the current security situation.

“It’s impossible to begin the process of rebuilding trust under these conditions,” Rahmani said in an address at the United States Institute of Peace on Friday. In addition to the vast terror networks in the country, the Afghan government is “also engaged in a war” on narcotics, she said.

The Taliban, ousted when U.S. troops arrived after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, have refused so far to hold direct talks with the Afghan government. Before the breakdown in talks — and in the days since — the Taliban escalated attacks.

Since ousting the Taliban, the U.S. has spent about $877 billion to restore stability, rebuild the country and fight the Taliban and other insurgents, according to a previous report by SIGAR. Yet the Taliban continues to control or contest about half the country, the most since they were toppled, and Islamic State has a solid foothold.

Read More: Afghan Taliban Stronger Than Ever After U.S. Spends $900 Billion

An Islamic State-claimed suicide bombing at a wedding hall last month killed more than 60 people. Taliban-claimed attacks killed seven Afghan policemen in early August, while a car bombing killed at least 12 people and wounded more than 30 school children in early July.

“We’ve spent over $30 billion a year in Afghanistan for decades now,” Secretary of State Michael Pompeo said this month. “That’s not a sustainable model. We’ve got to get it right.”
140,000 Deaths

The U.S. now has 14,000 of the 22,673 foreign troops in Afghanistan, down from a peak of 100,000 in 2011. More than 2,400 U.S. soldiers and 1,144 NATO coalition soldiers have been killed, according to, a site that tracks U.S. and NATO fatalities in Iraq and Afghanistan, while more than 20,500 American soldiers were wounded, it said.

Afghans have suffered even more. More than 32,000 Afghan civilians have been killed and about 60,000 wounded since 2009 by Taliban bombings, Afghan and foreign airstrikes and in the crossfire, a UN report found. A separate 2018 report by Brown University found that roughly 140,000 Afghan forces, civilians and Taliban militants died in the conflict.

Even if peace talks eventually occur between the Afghan government and the Taliban, success will ultimately depend on the reintegration of former fighters into civilian life in a country that has known little but war for decades, according to the inspector general.

“If the Afghan government and Taliban reach a peace agreement, an estimated 60,000 full-time Taliban fighters and some 90,000 seasonal fighters may seek to return to civilian life,” according to the report. “The current environment of ongoing conflict in Afghanistan is not conducive to a successful reintegration program.”

The U.S. has no lead agency or office for issues concerning the reintegration of ex-combatants, the report said. “In Afghanistan, this has contributed to a lack of clarity about reintegration goals and their relation to reconciliation.” The report cautioned the U.S. to “not support a reintegration program unless the Afghan government and the Taliban agree to terms for the reintegration of former fighters.”