Before the deal’s signing, rumors spread about four “secret annexes” and their content. Some of that speculation turned out to be incorrect. But three sources who have seen the annexes tell me there are two documents that have been classified by the administration. Members of Congress and cleared staff can view them, but they are not available to the general public.
These secret annexes include specifics of the Taliban’s commitments on counterterrorism and details about how the United States will verify Taliban compliance with those commitments. The State Department declined to comment on the annexes. But the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Eliot L. Engel (D-N.Y.), told me he wants them declassified and publicly released.
“After 18 years of fighting the Taliban, the American people deserve to see all aspects of the Trump-Taliban deal,” Engel said. “In my view, these so-called secret annexes do not contain any sensitive information that would jeopardize our national security, and I'm deeply concerned that the administration might be abusing classification to keep certain details out of public view.”
Last week, two senior administration officials told me the secret documents were implementation agreements with verification details that had to be kept private in order to thwart spoilers and protect national security processes. Taliban compliance directly impacts the United States’ ability to withdraw safely.
Under the public terms of the agreement, the United States will lower troop levels from about 13,000 to 8,600 within 135 days. After that, further troop withdrawals over the following 9½ months are conditioned on the Taliban upholding its commitments to reduce the terrorism threat to the United States and its allies.
Engel compared these two secret annexes to two “side agreements” to the Obama-era Iran nuclear deal Pompeo himself helped unearth in 2015. Then a member of Congress, Pompeo traveled to Vienna with Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and came back to reveal details of agreements between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Pompeo claimed the agreements undermined the soundness of the nuclear deal.
“A few years ago, my Republican colleagues were seeing red when an administration made a deal with side agreements and no chance for the Senate to ratify,” Engel said. “So I hope now, at the very least, they will join me in calling for the administration to declassify all of the secret annexes negotiated with the Taliban and make them fully transparent for the American people.”
Pompeo forcefully rejected this comparison Sunday in an interview on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” He pointed out (correctly) that in 2015, those secret side deals were between the IAEA and Iran and no American officials were allowed to see them. The two classified parts of the Taliban deal are available to all members of Congress, he said.
“This is a fully transparent arrangement," he said. “The American people should know Donald Trump is not going to take words on a paper. We’re going to see if the Taliban are prepared to live up to the commitments they’ve made.”
Pompeo also pushed back on criticisms coming from within his own party. Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) spearheaded an effort last week by 22 GOP lawmakers to raise concerns about the Taliban deal and the secret annexes in particular. Cheney said Tuesday the secret annexes are, in fact, problematic.
“[Pompeo] made assertions, including that there were complex, interlocking verification mechanisms,” Cheney said. “He asserted that there would be a full and complete renunciation of al-Qaeda by the Taliban. I’ve read the documents, and my concerns remain.”
Other lawmakers have other concerns about the deal, including the U.S. pledge to facilitate the release of “up to” 5,000 Taliban fighters by March 10. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has already made clear that he has no intention of meeting that goal. He wants prisoner releases to be part of his negotiations with the Taliban, not a precondition.
The U.S. side can claim its commitment was simply to facilitate that outcome. But Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-N.J.) told me even that pledge is counter to what Pompeo told him and other lawmakers in a meeting Feb. 15 on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference.
“Pompeo specifically promised a group of members of Congress this would not be the case. He said this would not require the Ghani government to release prisoners,” Malinowski said. “I feel we were misled by the secretary of state.”
Already, the Taliban has resumed attacks on Afghan security forces, carrying out at least 76 attacks in 24 provinces since Saturday’s signing, according to the New York Times. The United States conducted an airstrike against a Taliban target Wednesday for the first time in 11 days. This happened one day after Trump spoke over the phone with Taliban leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar.
“We’ve agreed there’s no violence. We don’t want violence. … We’ll see what happens,” Trump said Tuesday. “They’re looking to get this ended and we’re looking to get this ended. … The relationship is very good that I have with the mullah.”
There may be valid reasons to keep some details of the agreement out of public view. But the Trump administration is asking Congress and the American people to trust it to verify Taliban compliance. The administration’s track record with Congress doesn’t automatically justify such trust. That’s why calls for more transparency from the U.S. government and more accountability for the Taliban aren’t going away anytime soon.