Following 9/11, the United States was right to target Al-Qaeda and the Taliban government which harbored them—that was a justified, achievable mission. After a swift victory and the establishment of a new, popular Afghan government, policymakers should have removed U.S. troops. Instead, Washington pursued a nation-building effort to establish a central authority to govern all of Afghanistan—a goal unrelated to the core security interests that justified the initial campaign and impossible to achieve at reasonable cost. After nearly 18 years of war and our key goals accomplished long ago, it is past time to withdraw all U.S. forces to focus on vital national security interests.
The U.S. was right to punish and deter Al-Qaeda and the Taliban for harboring them following 9/11. But after swift victory, Washington transformed the mission to an unnecessary, costly nation-building effort. The outlines of a U.S.-Taliban agreement rest on four pillars: (1) the Taliban renounce Al-Qaeda and all terrorists, (2) a cease-fire covering all parties, (3) the Taliban agree to negotiate with the Afghan government, and (4) the U.S. military will draw down its forces. But only a full withdrawal is necessary for U.S. security, and that requires no agreement with the Taliban.