Exactly 19 years and one day after the 9/11 attacks masterminded by Afghanistan-based Al Qaeda terrorists killed nearly 3,000 people in the U.S., Secretary of State Mike Pompeo joined representatives of the Taliban and the Afghan government in Qatar on Saturday to kick off peace talks.

The Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks that saw four hijacked planes turned into weapons of war precipitated the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan that deposed the Taliban government, which had provided safe haven to Usama bin Laden and his Al Qaeda followers.

The peace talks that began Saturday are designed to come up with a power-sharing settlement between the Taliban and the U.S.-backed elected Afghan government to bring an end to the fighting that has raged since U.S. forces arrived in Afghanistan to retaliate for the Sept. 11 attacks.


 "Today is truly a momentous occasion," Pompeo said. "Afghans have at long last chosen to sit together and chart a new course for your country. This is a moment that we must dare to hope."

Millions of Afghans have been displaced and killed in the war-torn nation since Soviet forces invaded in 1979, eventually withdrawing to be replaced by a Taliban government.

More than 2,400 Americans, 450 British and 500 other coalition military members have been killed in fighting since U.S. forces invaded.

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Last February the United States and Taliban agreed to a prisoner release that freed about 5,000 Taliban prisoners of war and a phased withdrawal of remaining U.S. forces from Afghanistan.

The U.S. announced Wednesday that the current 8,600 American troops in the country would be drawn down to about 4,500 by early November.

Taliban negotiator Abbas Stanikzai, fifth right, with his delegation attend the opening session of the peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban in Doha, Qatar, Saturday, Sept. 12, 2020. (AP Photo/Hussein Sayed)

Under the agreement to start talks, the Taliban committed to barring any foreign terrorists from Afghanistan. This was a key American objective in the wake of the 9/11 attacks.

The talks were supposed to reach an agreement within 14 months but have been delayed since March because of a dispute regarding the issue of prisoner releases. When the final batch of Taliban prisoners was recently released the way was cleared for talks to begin.

However, there is no agreement as yet of a ceasefire between the Taliban and Afghan, U.S. and other coalition forces. That creates the potential for peace talks to collapse at any time, given that events on the ground in Afghanistan can intrude at any moment. The Taliban are loathe to commit to a ceasefire, contending that would reduce their negotiating leverage.

Ultimately, the Taliban understand they are yesterday’s radicals, while Turkey and Iran — supported by China — are today’s. Al Qaeda is withering and has no real patron.


The attempt at reconciliation between the warring sides in Afghanistan is consistent with the overall U.S. policy of trying to wind down our long-term engagement in this and other conflicts in the region.

After years of what President Trump has called "endless wars," the United States under his leadership is turning inward to take care first of itself, while refocusing its strength mostly on the greatest foreign threats: China, Russia and the European Union elites.

China represents a military, economic and geostrategic threat to the U.S. Russia operates thuggishly out of opportunity. And the EU elites pose the deepest threat — not military, but intellectual.

In that context, we are attempting to reduce our footprint in Afghanistan and the region.

Despite the U.S. refocus, aggressive adversaries — including Iran and Turkey — will challenge America and all our allies.

The Muslim Brotherhood-oriented government of Imre Khan in Pakistan is emerging as part of that axis. Pakistan and Turkey are provoking India and attempting to radicalize its huge Muslim minority, just as India faces dramatically raised tensions with China. Moreover, China is aligning with this coalition, as the recent Iran-China strategic agreement illustrates.

Opposite them is the collection of allies banding together under our encouragement. From Greece to India, a powerful bloc of nations operating in strategic coordination is emerging to strengthen the U.S. position even as we withdraw.

The recent agreements the Trump administration brokered to normalize relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain reflects a strategic shift to bind our allies together as a force multiplier that is less tethered but carries more of the burden. 

The important agreements anchor a much larger strategic bloc emerging, bringing together various Sunni Muslim forces with other regional forces. Within that context, the Trump administration is asking U.S. allies to step up to the plate to share the burden. But in return, we are backing them up internationally and diplomatically more strongly as they take on our common regional enemies.

In addition, India has a strong interest in supporting the Afghan government as a counterweight to Pakistan and its increasingly radical Islamist agenda.  

True, the Taliban see American withdrawal as an opportunity to expand their power in Afghanistan, and for the same reason the Afghan government enters the peace talks diminished. But the Taliban also face a grim future. Incapable of moderation and ideologically intense, the Taliban cannot transcend their totalitarian cruelty. They know their survival is in question.

Ultimately, the Taliban understand they are yesterday’s radicals, while Turkey and Iran — supported by China — are today’s. Al Qaeda is withering and has no real patron.

Turkey, as the rising Sunni radical power, has dramatically deepened its strategic ties to the Muslim Brotherhood-led Pakistani government. Turkey is not the preferred patron of Al Qaeda or Pakistan, so they may be crowded out in representing the radical Sunni camp.


Iran has in the past supported part of Al Qaeda, but the Iranian regime is wasting away and wounded by American actions and sanctions, so it has little ability to influence countries other than the three where it has focused its attention: Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.

At the same time, Saudi Arabia earlier worked through Pakistan to support the Taliban but has now split with Pakistan.

The Taliban fear the Afghan government will again emerge as a critical asset for the Indians against Pakistan. So the Taliban have come to the negotiating table because they that see the larger conflicts in the Sunni world upon which they fed are not going their way, even though their position on the ground in Afghanistan has improved a bit in the last half-decade. 


Greater forces than the Taliban now define the conflict in Afghanistan, India-Pakistan and throughout the Sunni world as a whole. So as good as the position of the Taliban is now, they know it will not get better from here.

The fate of Afghanistan since Alexander the Great nearly 2,500 years ago has been determined by the clash of geopolitical forces. The success of the intra-Afghan peace negotiations that began Saturday ultimately hinges on how the conflict in their war-ravaged nation fits into these larger trends.