A bipartisan group of nearly two dozen American lawmakers sought assurances and transparency on Thursday on a peace deal with the Taliban that the Trump administration was now considering bringing a lasting peace in war-torn Afghanistan.
In a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the defense secretary, these Congressmen called for prioritisation of American security as the US pursued a peace agreement with the Taliban.
Dated February 27, the letter calls for transparency and highlights the importance of keeping the US safe.
Additionally, it outlines the need for certain security pledges, including that any deal between the US and the Taliban will be public and not contain secret annexes or side deals.
The lawmakers also demanded that there will be no intelligence sharing or a "joint counter-terrorism" centre established with the Taliban.
"We have serious concerns about reports that the United States is preparing to sign a deal with the Taliban, the terrorists who harboured al-Qaeda before and after the attacks of 9/11. President Trump has a proven track record of putting America's security first and ensuring our country stays out of bad deals that aid our adversaries," the letter said.
"In keeping with this policy, we are seeking assurances that you will not place the security of the American people into the hands of the Taliban, and undermine our ally, the current government of Afghanistan," it added.
In the letter, the lawmakers sought assurances that any deal between the US and the Taliban would be public and not contain any secret annexes or side deals and that the administration would not put American security at risk by pretending that the Taliban was a reliable counter-terrorism partner.
The letter said decisions about US troop levels in Afghanistan must be made based on US national security requirements determined by conditions on the ground.
"Therefore, any deal must not contain a commitment for a full US withdrawal at this point. Such a commitment would embolden America's adversaries and undermine our allies, including the Afghan government," the lawmakers said.
"Any deal with the Taliban will include the requirement that the Taliban turn over all al-Qaeda leaders and operatives who are currently hiding in Taliban strongholds. There will be no uneven or premature release of Taliban prisoners," the Congressmen added.
They also sought assurances that the current sanctions and designations against the al-Qaeda-allied Haqqani network will remain in place regardless of any deal with the Taliban.
"President Trump has taken crucial action to keep our nation safe, including eliminating the world's most dangerous terrorists and destroying the ISIS caliphate. He knows a bad deal when he sees one. We urge you not to commit America to a dangerous deal with the Taliban that would abandon the President's track record of strengthening America and putting our security and interests first," the lawmakers said.
The Taliban, they alleged, was a terrorist group that celebrated suicide attacks. Haibatullah Akhundzada, the overall leader of the Taliban, sacrificed his own son in a suicide bombing in 2017. Akhundzada's top deputy, Sirajuddin Haqqani, runs a network that specialises in devastating suicide bombings, including some of the most heinous attacks in the history of the war, the letter said.
"The American people cannot rely on these terrorists to safeguard their security," it noted.
Observing that the Taliban also had a history of extracting concessions in exchange for false assurances, the lawmakers said they would accept nothing less than a full-scale US withdrawal from Afghanistan as they sought to establish their totalitarian "Islamic Emirate".
"Our withdrawal would then allow terrorist groups in Afghanistan to grow stronger and establish safe havens from which to plot attacks against us. Any promises the Taliban may have made to the US related to counterterrorism cannot be trusted, not least because the group is a long-time ally of al-Qaeda," the Congressmen said.
Indeed, if the initial US-Taliban deal had been approved in September as was originally planned, one of the top al-Qaeda operatives in Afghanistan, Asim Umar, would likely still be alive, the letter said.
"Umar threatened America and answered directly to al-Qaeda leader Ayman al Zawahiri. He was reportedly killed in a joint US-Afghan raid on a Taliban stronghold in September after President Trump suspended talks with the Taliban. It is our understanding that under the current deal, such raids are not taking place -- meaning that if Umar had survived a few months longer, he would be outside America's reach," it added.