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Counterterrorism Expert Explains U.S.-Taliban Peace Deal

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

The violence in Afghanistan resumed just days after the U.S. and the Taliban signed a deal to end the war there. On Wednesday, a U.S. drone attacked the group in retaliation for a series of attacks on Afghan troops. And yesterday, at least 32 civilians were killed, dozens injured when Afghan gunmen opened fire in Kabul. The self-proclaimed Islamic State - or ISIS - claimed responsibility for that attack. Seth Jones is a counterterrorism expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Mr. Jones, thanks for being with us.

SETH JONES: It's great to be on. Thanks.

SIMON: The deal was signed last weekend. Has it already failed?

JONES: No, it hasn't failed yet. But I think we're at the period where it's going to be most difficult where the Afghan government now, which is feuding within itself over who is actually running the government, has to find a solution with the Taliban. I think this will be the most difficult period by far - is, can we get any sort of agreement between the Afghan government and the Taliban?

SIMON: Can we?

JONES: I think that the challenge so far is that most of the senior Taliban leadership is led by Mullah Akhundzada, Zakir, Razzaq, any of the senior officials. I find it very hard to believe that they'll have fought for 18 years only to agree to a situation where they're serving in an Afghan government led by someone like President Ghani. I think they're going to want to ask for a lot. And I don't see, at this point, a lot of opportunity and position where the two will agree. But we'll have to see.

SIMON: When you say ask for a lot, a return to some of the practices for which the Taliban were known when they ruled Afghanistan? I'm thinking of the practical incarceration of women and not permitting women in schools.

JONES: Yeah, they - I mean, the Taliban of today is a different organization from the Taliban of the 1990s that ran the government up through 9/11. They have a slightly modified ideology. But they still have a pretty harsh position towards women. They still have a harsh position toward women serving in government positions, what and how people can dress. But I think, most importantly, they have expressed a willingness to run the government. And I think that will be something that the current Afghan government is not going to be willing to accept.

SIMON: I have to ask because the U.S. so determined to bring home U.S. troops, especially in an election year - that the Taliban really has little motive to stop their attacks.

JONES: I think that's certainly true. I mean, I - what I suspect the Taliban is doing right now. And my conversations with both current and former Taliban officials indicate that they're keeping options open. If they assess that they can get a U.S. withdrawal now through talks, that's great. If not, they will continue to fight. And their control of territory has increased a bit over the past couple of years. So they're winning on the battlefield.

SIMON: Yeah. In the half minute we have left, you were an adviser to the U.S. military in Afghanistan. What would you advise them to help make a deal work?

JONES: Well, I would advise that the U.S. has a backup plan in case the negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban fall apart. And I think, in particular, what does the U.S. need to keep pressure on terrorist organizations like al-Qaida and the Islamic State in Afghanistan? And what is the U.S. objective, also? Does it want to prevent a collapse of the Afghan government? If so, it's going to need some military resources to prevent a collapse.

SIMON: Seth Jones is a counterterrorism expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Mr. Jones, thanks so much for being with us.

JONES: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.