EDITORIAL: Letting go

U.S., Taliban make progress toward exit from Afghanistan

U.S. officials on Saturday signed a peace agreement with the Taliban that we all hope will lead to ultimate U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan. We hope they succeed, and that we finally are able to put an end to the longest and costliest military campaign in our nation’s history.

It won’t be easy, as Wednesday’s U.S. air attack against the Taliban, just four days after the peace deal was signed, indicates. We hope the attack, and the violence that provoked it, is an anomaly, and that the paramilitary group is able to control renegade factions that could sabotage the entire deal.

The agreement began a 14-month deescalation process that includes steps that will prove each side’s commitment along the way. If all steps are taken to both sides’ satisfaction, all U.S. troops could be withdrawn from Afghanistan by May 2021, and the Taliban could become at least part of the country’s governance.

As Wednesday’s exchange indicates, some of those steps might be subject to interpretation. The two sides had agreed to an immediate cessation of hostilities. Taliban forces on Wednesday attacked Afghani government troops — not U.S personnel — in the Helmand province. U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said the attack violated the agreement, and American warplanes were sent to provide air support for the government troops.

The Afghan government wasn’t part of the peace talks, but one of the conditions called for the Taliban to begin negotiations with the government regarding ultimate peace.

That perhaps will be the biggest challenge to the deal; the Taliban wants to install a Shariah emirate in the country, and could reverse many of the social changes, especially with respect to women’s rights, that have been made over the roughly 19 years of U.S. involvement.

Would that threaten U.S. commitment to leave the country? Under the deal, we have pledged to withdraw some 3,400 troops immediately, reducing our deployment roughly to the levels that existed before President Trump took office. We hope that despite Wednesday’s events, we show our commitment to the agreement and pull the troops.

We don’t know what will come of any Taliban talks with the government. Is either side willing to make the concessions necessary to make any powersharing agreement possible?

Moreover, we Americans will have to reconcile our own need to respect the autonomy of other countries against our desire to impose our own social standards upon others — even by force if our elected officials deem it necessary.

The American people are tired of endless wars, as Trump himself said during his presidential campaign. We are tired of sending our sons and daughters into battle for causes that many Americans aren’t sure are ours to defend. That doubt adds to the pain that families and entire communities feel when we lose one of our dedicated troops to the war — one of the most recent being Army Spc. Miguel Angel Villalon of Brownsville, who was killed Jan. 11 in Afghanistan. Dozens of Rio Grande Valley’s finest, and thousands of others across the country, have been willing to fight and die for out country. Let us commit ourselves to making sure those causes are worth dying for.