Thursday, 02 April, 2020

Pentagon: US, Taliban reach short-term 'reduction in violence' deal

Pentagon: US, Taliban reach short-term 'reduction in violence' deal US announces partial Taliban truce, Trump says peace deal 'close'
Deanna Wagner | 16 February, 2020, 20:10

A senior U.S. official said on Friday the United States and the Taliban have reached a truce agreement that will take effect very soon and could lead to withdrawals of American troops from Afghanistan.

But, for the Taliban, the proposal represents a way to gain the political legitimacy they never had in the late 1990s when they first came to power.

President Donald Trump campaigned on a promise to withdraw USA troops from the region and has struggled to find a way to scale down the American military footprint there over the past three years.

A Taliban official familiar with the deal said that the second agreement would be signed on Feb 29 and that the inter-Afghan dialogue would begin on March 10.

The agreement would pave the way for the USA and Taliban to finalize a larger deal that was derailed following a deadly Taliban suicide attack in Kabul that killed an American soldier.

The Taliban official said the signing had been tentatively set for February 29, with the start of the Afghan talks planned for March 10.

The final details were hammered out in recent days by U.S. special envoy for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad and Taliban representatives in Doha, Qatar. And it covers in writing all types of violence, roadside bombs, suicide attacks and rockets.

Citing Afghan and U.S. officials, The New York Times has reported that Trump had given conditional approval to a deal with the Taliban to allow him to start withdrawing United States troops. A comprehensive and permanent cease fire will also be negotiated.

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US Defense Secretary Mark Esper announced the partial truce proposal following a North Atlantic Treaty Organisation meeting in Brussels - a day after Afghan President Ashraf Ghani reported "notable progress" in negotiations with the Islamist extremists.

There have been previous false dawns in Afghanistan, with a deal all but complete in September before President Trump nixed it at the last moment, amid continued Taliban violence.

The Taliban official said the withdrawal of foreign troops would start gradually and be carried out over 18 months. "We are still confronting a medium to long-term common threats that require joint commitment to tackle them", Ghani said.

It is important to point out the Taliban agreement only involves US troops and does not impact fighting between Afghanistan's military forces and the Taliban.

US drawdown plans, however, will be linked to progress in intra-Afghan negotiations and effective implementation of Taliban undertakings.

"There is a reduction in violence period, and then we have to consider whether or not to move forward with the agreement, with the peace agreement". Esper did not say whether the US agreed to eventually cut its forces there to 0.

The so-called intra-Afghan dialogue, however, is likely to be hard and protracted. However, the Defense Department said counterterrorism operations will continue in the country.

To make good on its promise to release Taliban prisoners, Washington is going to need the co-operation of Ghani, who has been critical of the way US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad has conducted the talks with the Taliban, complaining about being kept in the dark.