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A promising push for peace in America’s longest war

U.S. Marines and Afghan National Army personnel at

U.S. Marines and Afghan National Army personnel at a handover ceremony at Leatherneck Camp in Lashkar Gah in the Afghan province of Helmand on April 29, 2017. Photo Credit: AFP/Getty Images / Wakil Kohsar

Good news finally has been trickling back from Afghanistan: U.S. and Taliban negotiators appear close to a peace pact in America’s longest war.

A resolution is long overdue. America invaded in 2001 in response to the 9/11 terror attacks. Afghanistan’s Taliban regime had harbored al-Qaida, and the country served as a base for terrorists responsible for the deaths of thousands. The Taliban were routed, and by 2003, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld declared an end to “major combat.”

That was almost 16 years ago.

Those years have proven true the warning that Afghanistan always has been a humbler of empires. The Taliban regrouped and fighting continued. Cities were struck with suicide bombings. NATO troops returned to fight in provinces they’d left in triumph. Americans and Afghans alike continue to die.

There are no easy answers for Afghanistan. On a shifting battlefield, the Taliban that once sheltered terrorists more recently has clashed with the Islamic State, an enemy the United States has contested elsewhere.

Yet there is a legitimate concern that terror groups could fester again in the country without an American presence. In drafts of a cautious peace pact, the Taliban are said to promise this won’t be the case. Enforcement mechanisms on that promise will be key to any deal.

And the deeply patriarchal Taliban regime was a nightmare for Afghan women. The partial liberation of those women has been one of the successes of U.S. and allies’ intervention. Women cast ballots; the country now has a national women’s soccer team, albeit one with officials accused of sexual abuse. Such tenuous advances show the real challenges ahead with or without American support.

Peace and stability must be negotiated, sooner rather than later. The effects of the war reverberate there and here: from the Afghan children maimed and killed by suicide attacks or U.S. and NATO airstrikes, to the families and communities still mourning lost servicemen and women in New York City and beyond. America cannot remain deeply involved in this country forever.

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