Generals and Admirals: Here is How Trump Can Make the Afghanistan Agreement Work | Opinion

Dear Mr. President,

As career national security professionals who have long supported a diplomatic resolution to the war in Afghanistan, we write to congratulate you on the news that an agreement with the Taliban has been reached after nine rounds of intensive talks. Your administration deserves credit for opening a direct dialogue with the insurgent movement as the first step toward a peaceful settlement to the conflict. While the discussions over the last 10 months were difficult and painful at times, we have no doubt negotiations were the only conceivable way to address the causes and grievances that have fueled the war.

As you deliberate with your advisers on whether to approve the draft agreement with the Taliban, we respectfully urge you to consider the following points before finalizing the document with your signature. Just as earlier this year in Hanoi you rightly walked away from the negotiations with North Korea, so too we urge you to consider walking away from this agreement if key points are not included. Your late-night cancellation on September 7 of a direct meeting with Taliban leadership at Camp David was an appropriate response to the group's latest pace of attacks throughout the country. Any hope of Afghanistan seeing peace in the future will dwindle if the Taliban refuse to agree to a ceasefire. The list of items below could very well determine the difference between a strong and effective accord that meets U.S. national security interests in Afghanistan and a weak and symbolic one that doesn't.

  • The Taliban have said they intend to continue the war with the Afghan security forces who will remain responsible for fighting ISIS as well as the Taliban. Whatever U.S. military withdrawal occurs initially, we must retain the capability to support Afghanistan forces with air power while peace negotiations and the war go on. Withdrawal must be part of a peace process, and Taliban unwillingness to move forward with negotiations of a full peace would further discredit the group as a serious partner in a possible peace process. Special Representative Zalmay Khalilzad must make it clear to his Taliban counterparts in the lead-up to intra-Afghan talks that a refusal to fulfill their commitments will jeopardize the U.S. troop withdrawals they claim to want.
  • While Afghans will ultimately be responsible for the political future of their country, the United States can help preserve momentum for intra-Afghan negotiations by maintaining a small U.S. troop presence as discussions proceed. A full American military departure before intra-Afghan talks are underway and the outline of an initial political settlement is established will remove any incentive the Taliban has to negotiate with other Afghan stakeholders, thereby resulting in more violence and a potential civil war.
  • Taliban commitments to sever their relationship with Al-Qaeda and prevent terrorist organizations from using Afghanistan to conduct attacks on the United States and its interests should not be taken for granted. We welcome comments from the State Department that a U.S.-Taliban agreement "will be based on clear requirements and commitments, subject to our monitoring and verification and will be in sync with the understandings we reach (with) the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan." The U.S., in partnership with its NATO allies and in coordination with partners in the region, must have confidence that the Taliban will actually abide by their counterterrorism obligations. This will likely require more investment in intelligence, reconnaissance, and surveillance assets and perhaps an intelligence presence on the ground in order to discover violations as they arise.
  • The United States must always reserve the right to respond militarily if evidence suggests that terrorists on Afghan soil are planning an attack against the American people. Agreement or no agreement, the U.S. will exercise the principle of self-defense whenever it is required.
  • Finally, the United States must reserve the right to respond militarily should the Taliban abandon their negotiated commitments and try to unilaterally impose their will on Afghanistan. The agreement your administration worked so hard to deliver and the gains so many Americans fought and died to achieve must be backed up by the full commitment and power of the United States.

After nearly 18 years, thousands of casualties, and $755 billion in expenditures, it is time for the United States to finally extricate itself militarily from Afghanistan. Taking the above into account will minimize mistakes during a withdrawal and guard against condemning the Afghan peace process to death before it even starts.

Sincerely,

Rear Admiral Sandy Adams, USN (Retired)

Brigadier General Ricardo Aponte, USAF (Retired)

Vice Admiral Donald Arthur, USN (Retired)

Major General Donna Barbisch, USA (Retired)

Brigadier General Roosevelt Barfield, USA (Retired)

Lieutenant General Ronald Blanck, USA (Retired)

Brigadier General LeAnne Burch, USAR (Retired)

Major General David P. Burford, USA (Retired)

Brigadier General Stephen A. Cheney, USMC (Retired)

Rear Admiral Christopher Cole, USN (Retired

Major General Peter S. Cooke, USA (Retired)

Vice Admiral Dirk Debbink, USN (Retired)

Brigadier General James H. Doty Jr, USA (Retired)

Brigadier General John Douglass, USAF (Retired)

Major General Mari K. Eder, USA (Retired)

Brigadier General Robert J. Felderman, USA (Retired)

Brigadier General Evelyn "Pat" Foote, USA (Retired)

Vice Admiral Michael T. Franken, USN (Retired)

Lieutenant General Walter E. Gaskin, USMC (Retired)

Rear Admiral Stephen Glass, JAGC, USN (Retired)

Vice Admiral Kevin P. Green, USN (Retired)

Rear Admiral Janice Hamby, USN (Retired)

Rear Admiral Charles D. Harr, MD, USN (Retired)

Brigadier General Don Harvel, USAF (Retired)

Brigadier General Len R. Hering Sr, USN (Retired)

Major General Sanford E. Holman, USA (Retired)

Ambassador Vicki Huddleston, (Retired)

Ambassador Cameron Hume, (Retired)

Brigadier General David R. Irvine, USA (Retired)

Lieutenant General Arlen D. Jameson, USAF (Retired)

Ambassador Dennis C. Jett, (Retired)

Ambassador Patrick Kennedy, (Retired)

Ambassador Jimmy Kolker, (Retired)

Mr. Bruce S. Lemkin, Senior Executive Service (Retired)

Major General Randy Manner, USA (Retired)

Ambassador Edward Marks, (Retired)

Major General Frederick H. Martin, USAF (Retired)

Colonel Doug Mastriano, USA (Retired)

Mr. Robert McBrien, Senior Executive Service (Retired)

Brigadier General David L. McGinnis, USA (Retired)

Ambassador Ronald E. Neumann, (Retired)

Brigadier General J. Scott O'Meara, USMC (Retired)

Rear Admiral Glenn Phillips, USN (Retired)

Major General Jeffrey Phillips, USAF (Retired)

Major General John Phillips, PhD, USAF (Retired)

Major General Gale S. Pollock, USA (Retired)

Ambassador Charles Ray, (Retired)

Brigadier General John M. Schuster, USA (Retired)

Rear Admiral Michael E. Smith, USN (Retired)

Major General F. Andrew Turley, USAF (Retired)

Ambassador Edward S. Walker Jr, (Retired)

Brigadier General George H. Walls Jr, USMC (Retired)

Brigadier General Marianne Watson, USA (Retired)

Ambassador Earl Anthony Wayne, (Retired)

Major General Margaret Wilmoth, USA (Retired)

Brigadier General Dan P. Woodward, USAF (Retired)

Major General Margaret H. Woodward, USAF (Retired)

Major General David T. Zabecki, USA (Retired

The American College of National Security Leaders is a consortium of retired Admirals, Generals, Ambassadors and Senior Government Executives committed to strengthening the United States' national security initiatives.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.​​​​​

Generals and Admirals: Here is How Trump Can Make the Afghanistan Agreement Work | Opinion | Opinion