The US reached agreement with the Taliban on a week-long reduction in violence that could lead to a US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan a senior administration official said cautioning the insurgents must honour commitments for the accord to stick.
The deal was struck in protracted negotiations in Doha and announced after a meeting between US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Defence Secretary Mark Esper and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference.
The accord – if it holds – could pave the way for an agreement by month-end on a US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, a long-sought objective for President Donald Trump, who vowed to stop “endless wars” as he seeks re-election in November.
“Violence derailed the signing of the agreement in September. Now we have an agreement on reduction of violence. Should the Talibs implement what they’ve committed to, we will move forward with the agreement,” a senior administration official told reporters in Munich.
The seven-day period has not started, but will go into effect soon, the official said.
There were no immediate comments from Ghani’s government or the Taliban.
There remains a long way to a peace settlement and end to the nearly two-decade-old US military presence that began shortly after the 9/11 attacks by al Qaeda. US officials are clear 13 000 troops will be cut to about 8 600 this year, with or without a withdrawal deal.
The reduction in violence agreement “is a good step on a long road,” said Ronald Neumann, a former US ambassador to Afghanistan.
LONG PATH TO PEACE DEAL
A US withdrawal agreement would be followed by negotiations on a political settlement between the Taliban and an Afghan delegation including government officials. A first issue would be a nationwide ceasefire.
The so-called intra-Afghan dialogue is likely to be difficult and protracted. The Taliban refuse to speak directly to government, which they denounce as a US puppet. Kabul’s negotiating team has yet to be named and there has been long wrangling over its composition.
It remains to be seen if the Taliban leadership has full control over its fighters.
The senior official made clear full U.S. withdrawal will depend on the Taliban fulfilling commitments to end ties with al Qaeda and other extremist groups.
“Our commitment, in terms of reduction of forces which is both conditions-based and in phases, is tied to delivery on commitments they have made and will be,” said the official. “There will be no hosting, no training, no recruitment, no fund-raising.”
The official noted that provision covered only Taliban-controlled territory, meaning it does not apply to Taliban sanctuaries in neighbouring Pakistan, which US officials accuse of supporting the insurgents. Islamabad denies the allegation.
The official said the reduction in violence agreement was specific and covered all Afghan forces. The US military would monitor violence levels to verify whether the Taliban were honouring it.
US and Taliban negotiators have been meeting in Doha since 2018 even as fighting has raged and hundreds of civilians and combatants have been killed as the insurgents expand territorial control.
Last month the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, a US government agency, assessed there were a record number of attacks by the Taliban and anti-government forces in the last three months of 2019.