Nine former U.S. ambassadors have warned that Afghanistan could collapse in a "total civil war" if the United States withdraws its forces before a "real" peace deal involving the Kabul government is reached with the Taliban.
"A major troop withdrawal must be contingent on a final peace" and "should follow, not come in advance, of [a] real peace agreement," the former diplomats said in a joint statement released on September 3 by the Atlantic Council think tank.
"The initial U.S. drawdown should not go so far or so fast that the Taliban believe they can achieve military victory," they said.
The warning comes a day after Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. diplomat who has led nearly a year of negotiations with the Taliban in Qatar, told RFE/RL that the two sides had reached a deal "in principle" to end the nearly 18-year war in Afghanistan.
Also on September 12, a Taliban attack involving a car bombing and gunmen killed at least 16 civilians and wounded more than 110 others in Kabul.
Under the draft peace deal, the Taliban agreed that any Afghan territory it controls in the future will not be used as a sanctuary for terrorists to launch attacks against the United States and its allies, Khalilzad told RFE/RL in a telephone interview from Kabul.
U.S. and Taliban negotiators also agreed on the gradual "reduction and withdrawal" of Western forces from Afghanistan, he said.
Khalilzad said the U.S.-Taliban agreement would become final when U.S. President Donald Trump agrees to it, paving the way for an "inter-Afghan dialogue."
TOLOnews quoted Khalilzad as saying that under the draft deal the first 5,000 U.S. troops would leave Afghanistan in less than five months.
About 20,000 foreign troops, most of them American, are now in Afghanistan as part of a U.S.-led NATO mission to train, assist, and advise Afghan forces. Some U.S. forces carry out counterterrorism operations.
The Taliban have refused official talks with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani's government, and the nine former U.S. officials cautioned against any action that would undercut the Western-backed government in Kabul.
"Giving way to the Taliban's refusal to negotiate with the Afghan government would let the Taliban determine with whom it will negotiate," they said, adding that the Afghans "deserve to determine their government and who will represent them in peace negotiations."
The nine former U.S. officials have served under Presidents George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Trump. They include James Dobbins, John Negroponte, and Ryan Crocker.