Sept. 4 (UPI) -- A group of former senior U.S. diplomats to Afghanistan warned that the country could return to "total civil war" and become a new center for terrorists if the Trump administration commits to withdrawing all U.S. troops without establishing peace in the embattled country.
The nine former ambassadors and special envoys who served in Afghanistan from 2001-2017 said in an open letter published by think tank Atlantic Council that they support a limited force drawdown as part of ongoing negotiations with the Taliban over a peace deal but a full troop withdrawal should only occur after peace is established.
"A major troop withdrawal must be contingent on a final peace," the former diplomats said. "The initial U.S. drawdown should not go so far or so fast that the Taliban believe that they can achieve military victory. In that case, they will not make compromises for peace with other Afghan political forces."
The letter came a day after it was announced that the United States and the Taliban had agreed in principle to a deal that would see an initial withdrawal of 5,400 of the current 14,000 U.S. troops in the Middle Eastern country within 20 weeks of the deal being signed.
In exchange for the withdrawal, the Taliban would commit to not using the country to launch terrorist attacks against the United States.
On Saturday, Zalmay Khalilzad, Trump's special envoy to Afghanistan, announced that the United States and the Taliban were "at the threshold of an agreement" that would reduce violence and "open the door for Afghans to negotiate an honorable & sustainable peace and a unified, sovereign Afghanistan that does not threaten the United States, its allies or any other country."
In the letter Tuesday, the ambassadors warned that it was unclear that peace would be possible with the Taliban as they have not said how they would accept a peaceful environment with other Afghans.
"There is an outcome far worse than the status quo, namely a return to the total civil war that consumed Afghanistan as badly as the war with the Russians and something that could follow a breakdown in negotiations if we remove too much support from the Afghan state."
Without U.S. troops, a civil war would allow the terrorist group the Islamic State to "expand its already strong foothold," they said.
The situation would then become further inflamed as regional forces such as Iran, Pakistan and Russia would all support Afghan allies forcing the Taliban to maintain their alliance with al-Qaeda, another militant group.
"All of this could prove catastrophic for U.S. national security as it relates to our fight against both al-Qaeda and IS, and it would underscore to potential enemies that the United States and its allies are not reliable," the former diplomates said.
The diplomates said they support planned presidential elections in September instead of the widely debated alternative of creating an interim government as the negotiations continue.
They said millions of Afghans have risked death for the right to vote and the United States should not deprive them of that because the Taliban has rejected to deal directly with the Afghan government.
"It is critical that the United States make clear that full withdrawal will not occur on fixed dates but will, on the contrary, require conclusion of a real and clearly defined peace," they said.