Taliban leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar and U.S. peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad in Doha, Qatar, February 2020
Ibraheem al Omari / Reuters

On February 29, the United States and the Taliban signed a preliminary peace deal aimed at ending nearly 19 years of war in Afghanistan. The agreement calls for the United States to gradually withdraw its troops from the country over the next 14 months and for the Taliban and the Afghan government (which was not a party to the deal) to open direct talks. The Taliban further promise in the deal to prevent terrorist groups, such as al Qaeda or the Islamic State (also known as ISIS), from operating in territory they control.

Much could go wrong rather quickly. The United States and the Taliban had agreed that a prisoner exchange should precede the negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban, but Afghan President Ashraf Ghani initially balked at the prospect. The talks did not begin on March 10, as specified in the U.S.-Taliban accord, but on that day Ghani did

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  • JAMES DOBBINS is a Senior Fellow at the RAND Corporation. He served as Special Envoy for Afghanistan under Presidents Bush and Obama and with the U.S. delegation to the Vietnam peace talks in 1968.
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