WASHINGTON, D.C. – America's longest war may finally be nearing an end.
The United States and the Islamists it toppled from power in Afghanistan are poised to sign a peace deal Saturday after a conflict that outlasted two U.S. commanders in chief and is now led by a third eager to fulfill a campaign promise to extricate America from “endless wars."
More than 18 years since President George W. Bush ordered bombing in response to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the agreement will set the stage for the withdrawal of U.S. troops, some of whom were not yet born when the World Trade Center collapsed on that crisp, sunny morning that changed how Americans see the world.
Saturday's ceremony also signals the potential end of a tremendous investment of blood and treasure. The U.S. spent more than $750 billion, and on all sides the war cost tens of thousands of lives lost, permanently scarred and indelibly interrupted. Yet it's also a conflict that is frequently ignored by U.S. politicians and the American public.
In the Qatari capital of Doha, America’s top diplomat will stand with leaders of the Taliban, Afghanistan's former rulers who harbored Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaida network as they plotted, and then celebrated, the hijackings of four airliners that were crashed into lower Manhattan, the Pentagon and a field in western Pennsylvania, killing almost 3,000 people.
It will likely be an uncomfortable appearance for Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who privately told a conference of U.S. ambassadors at the State Department this week that he was going only because President Donald Trump had insisted on his participation, according to two people present.
A statement from Trump on Friday said Pompeo will “witness” the signing of the agreement, leaving unclear if he will personally sign it on behalf of the United States, or if he will shake hands with Taliban representatives.
U.S. troops are to be withdrawn to 8,600 from about 13,000 in the weeks following Saturday's signing. Further drawdowns are to depend on the Taliban meeting certain counter-terrorism conditions, compliance that will be assessed by the United States. But officials say soldiers will be coming home.