- The Washington Times - Friday, August 16, 2019

President Trump and administration security officials were briefed by special Afghan envoy Zalmay Khalilzad on the state of peace talks with the Taliban on Friday, as lawmakers unveiled legislation setting conditions of Mr. Trump’s hoped-for U.S. troop withdrawal.

Mr. Khalilzad has said he is nearing the end of talks with the Taliban and the U.S.-backed Afghan government in Kabul that call for a cease-fire and preparations to bring home the bulk of U.S. forces engaged in the longest war in American history.

The White House Friday evening confirmed the meeting that centered on “ongoing negotiations around eventual peace and reconciliation agreement with the Taliban and the government of Afghanistan.”

Vice President Mike Pence, Defense Secretary Mark Esper, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph Dunford, National Security Adviser John R. Bolton, and CIA Director Gina Haspel were in attendance.

The meeting took place at the president’s golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, where Mr. Trump is spending a working vacation.

“The meeting went very well, and negotiations are proceeding,” the White House said.

The agreement will require a reduction of violence and a cease-fire and ensure that “Afghan soil is never again used to threaten the United States or her allies,” according to the State Department.

Mr. Trump campaigned on ending wars abroad and bringing American troops home. He has begun drawing down the number of U.S. forces inside Syria and has made no secret about wanting to do the same in Afghanistan.

The Pentagon, however, has resisted a full withdrawal of all U.S. troops still deployed in Afghanistan, with both the Taliban and jihadist groups like Islamic State posing a threat to the government in Kabul.

Roughly 14,000 U.S. military personnel remain inside the country, according to the Pentagon. There are 38 countries contributing a total of about 6,500 troops to the NATO-run advisory mission in Afghanistan, dubbed Operation Resolute Support.

As top security leaders, including Mr. Pompeo and Vice President Mike Pence, are briefed, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina advised Mr. Trump to “be smart, take your time, and listen to your national security team.”

“Any peace agreement which denies the U.S. a robust counter-terrorism capability in Afghanistan is not a peace deal,” Mr. Graham warned, saying an abrupt pullout without the necessary safeguards is “a recipe for disaster.”

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have been hesitant to back a full troop withdrawal.

Republican Reps. Jim Banks of Indiana and Liz Cheney of Wyoming introduced legislation on Friday that sets strict requirements before the U.S. troop presence can drop below 10,000.

The requirements specify that the Taliban entirely break with al Qaeda and other radical movements; protect women’s rights; provide access to health care; and cooperate with the U.S. in future counterterrorism operations.

“We cannot afford to be overly eager to strike any deal, especially a bad one, that looks to satisfy short-term political pressures at the risk of long-term national security threats,” Mr. Banks said in a statement.

Dave Boyer contributed to this article.

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