As the American military pulls its troops out of Syria, a process that's expected to wrap up over the next month, President Trump's focus will likely shift toward winding down America's most intractable "forever war": The ongoing battle against the Taliban in Afghanistan. After arriving at an agreement in principle with the Taliban last month, the New York Times on Thursday published a report about next steps, citing a group of anonymous European and US officials, who offered a broad-strokes accounting of a withdrawal plan that's rapidly gaining support in Washington and Brussels.
The plan, which as become part of the negotiations with the Taliban over a possible power-sharing agreement with the government in Kabul that would bring about an end to the fighting, would involve halving the number of American troops in the country over the coming months - reducing their numbers from roughly 14,000 to 7,000, and shifting the focus of military operations from a "counterinsurgency" framework to focus on "counterterrorism" operations.
Ultimately, the plan calls for all European and US troops to leave Afghanistan in 5 years, while the US and Europe would continue a measure of financial support for the troubled Afghan military.
Until the withdrawal has been completed, US troops would continue attacks on Al Qaeda and ISIS forces in Afghanistan, including partnering with Afghan commandos for training and raids.
Over the coming five years, European forces would continue their training work with the Afghan military, while US would shift more resources to providing logistical support - some of which could be based outside of Afghanistan - would still be made available.
"The Europeans are perfectly capable of conducting the training mission," James Stavridis, a retired American admiral and former top NATO commander who is now with the Carlyle Group private equity firm. "It is a smart division of labor to have the United States shift the bulk of its effort toward the special forces mission and having the Europeans do the training mission."
Mr. Stavridis said the two missions would be coordinated, including American logistical support and military backup for the European troops.
The NYT report followed the beginning of a round of negotiations involving senior officials on both sides.
On Monday, American diplomats met with the Taliban in Qatar in the highest-level negotiations yet, including the attendance of Gen. Austin S. Miller, the commander of the international mission in Afghanistan. The negotiations paused on Wednesday and are set to resume on Saturday.
The two sides have sought to flesh out a framework agreement, decided in principle last month, for the full withdrawal of foreign troops and assurances by the Taliban to prevent terrorist groups that seek to attack the United States from using Afghan territory as a safe haven.
The Afghan government has not been a part of the negotiations because of Taliban reluctance to talk to President Ashraf Ghani or his envoys.
Of course, while President Trump has made ending America's foreign entanglements a cornerstone of his "America first" rhetoric, the fact that the plan has broad support doesn't preclude the possibility that Trump could scuttle it.