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Be cautious in Afghanistan peace talks with the Taliban

Afghan chefs work in a restaurant kitchen in

Afghan chefs work in a restaurant kitchen in Kabul on Wednesday. Afghan women are warily watching U.S.-Taliban peace talks.

Good news finally has been trickling back from Afghanistan: U.S. and Taliban negotiators may be close to a peace pact in America’s longest war.

A resolution is long overdue. America invaded in 2001 in response to the 9/11 terror attacks. Afghanistan’s Taliban regime had harbored al-Qaida, and the country served as a base for terrorists responsible for the deaths of thousands. The Taliban were routed, and by 2003, then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld declared an end to “major combat.”

That was almost 16 years ago.

Those years have proven true the warning that Afghanistan always has been a humbler of empires. The Taliban regrouped and fighting continued. Cities were struck with suicide bombings. NATO troops returned to fight in provinces they’d left in triumph. Americans and Afghans alike continue to die.

The U.S. intelligence community’s annual threat assessment released last week found a bitter stalemate in the country, with trouble ahead for planned elections. That assessment also indicated that Afghanistan is a crucial crossroads, with larger geopolitical significance given Russia’s efforts to play a role in the Afghanistan peace process.

There are no easy answers for Afghanistan. On a shifting battlefield, the Taliban that once sheltered terrorists more recently has clashed with the Islamic State, an enemy the United States has contested elsewhere.

Yet there is a legitimate concern that terror groups could fester again in the country without an American presence. In drafts of a cautious peace pact, the Taliban are said to promise this won’t be the case. Enforcement mechanisms on that promise will be key to any deal.

And the deeply patriarchal Taliban regime was a nightmare for Afghan women. The partial liberation of those women has been one of the successes of U.S. and allies’ intervention. Women cast ballots in large numbers celebrated by activists and election watchers around the world. The country now even has a national women’s soccer team, albeit one with officials accused of sexual abuse. Such tenuous advances show the real challenges ahead with or without American support.

Political consensus on the war and our role in Afghanistan remains complicated. In a bipartisan vote, the Senate rebuked President Donald Trump’s effort to withdraw troops from Afghanistan and Syria. Meanwhile, some Democratic presidential candidates found themselves on Trump’s side in favor of bringing troops home. That’s just the recent state of debate. While caution is warranted, two presidents have now campaigned for and won office on promises to wind down wars that have stretched on for far too long.

Peace and stability must be negotiated, sooner rather than later. The effects of the war reverberate there and here: from the Afghan children maimed and killed by suicide attacks or U.S. and NATO airstrikes, to the families and communities still mourning lost servicemen and women on Long Island and beyond. America cannot remain deeply involved in this country forever. — The editorial board