How Trump’s Plan to Secretly Meet With the Taliban Came Together, and Fell Apart – The New York Times

For Mr. Trump, ending the war in Afghanistan has been a focus since taking office, a signature accomplishment that could help him win re-election next year. For nearly a year, Mr. Khalilzad, a former ambassador to Afghanistan, has engaged in talks with the Taliban to make that happen.

In recent weeks, it had been increasingly clear that the United States and the Taliban, after nine rounds of painstaking negotiations in Doha, Qatar, had ironed out most of the issues between them. Mr. Khalilzad declared that the agreement document had been finalized “in principle.”

The deal called for a gradual withdrawal of the remaining 14,000 American troops over 16 months, with about 5,000 of them leaving within 135 days. In return, the Taliban would provide counterterrorism assurances to ease American fears of a repeat of Sept. 11 from Afghan soil.

But the negotiations left out Afghanistan’s government, and Mr. Ghani’s officials criticized it for lacking measures that would ensure stability. At home, Mr. Trump was cautioned by Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina; Gen. Jack Keane, a retired Army vice chief of staff; and Gen. David Petraeus, the retired Afghanistan and Iraq commander.

Mr. Bolton was the leading voice against the deal on the inside as Mr. Pompeo’s allies increasingly tried to isolate the national security adviser. Mr. Bolton argued that Mr. Trump could pull out 5,000 troops while still leaving enough forces to assist counterterrorism efforts without a deal with the Taliban, a group he argued could not be trusted.

In an interview on Sunday, Mr. Graham said he shared Mr. Trump’s desire “to end the war in Afghanistan between the Taliban and the Afghan people.” But he added that no deal could include withdrawing all American forces or trusting the Taliban to confront Al Qaeda or the Islamic State.

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