With less than a month to go before a diplomatic accord with the Taliban requires U.S. forces to withdraw from their longest-ever overseas war, the Biden administration is now trying to make their May 1 drawdown deadline irrelevant.
According to multiple sources in and close to the administration, none of whom would speak for attribution ahead of President Biden announcing a decision on Afghanistan, a forthcoming diplomatic summit in Istanbul is crucial. There, U.S. negotiator Zalmay Khalilzad will attempt to sell the Taliban and Washington’s client Afghan government on something approaching a power-sharing deal.
If they succeed, the thinking goes, then the diplomatic breakthrough will make a somewhat prolonged U.S. presence in Afghanistan palatable to the Taliban. But the downside is tremendous: a risk to a return to outright war by a Taliban that will consider the U.S. to have violated its accord. What happens around the negotiating table will shape the decision Biden must make in Afghanistan far more substantially than will his still-ongoing policy review.