U.S., Taliban Sign Deal To End War In Afghanistan

afghan

U.S. President Donald Trump hailed the deal and said he would meet soon with Taliban leaders

The United
States has signed a historic agreement with the Taliban that could lead to the
withdrawal of all foreign troops from Afghanistan and an end to the country’s
18-year conflict.

The
agreement signed in Doha in Qatar on February 29 lays out a timetable for the
withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan in return for various security
commitments from the insurgents and a pledge to hold talks with the government
in Kabul.

According
to a joint declaration published by the U.S. and Afghan governments on February
29, the United States and NATO would withdraw all troops in Afghanistan within
14 months if the Taliban upheld the commitments made in the agreement.

The deal
was signed by U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay
Khalilzad and Taliban co-founder Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, leader of the political
wing of the group.

U.S.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Taliban leaders attended the signing
ceremony. Representatives from over two dozen countries and international
organizations, among them the foreign ministers of Pakistan and Turkey, were also
present at the event.

“We
are just at the beginning,” Pompeo said ahead of the signing. “A
significant reduction in violence will create conditions for peace, and the
absence of it the conditions for failure,” he added.

Pompeo said
that Afghans need to live in peace and prosperity with respect for the rights
of women, while the United States must be assured there will not be a terrorist
threat from the country.

Speaking in
Kabul, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said that the United States would not
hesitate to nullify the deal if the Taliban did not uphold its end.

“If
the Taliban upholds the agreement the United States will begin a
conditions-based, and I repeat a conditions-based, reduction in forces,”
Esper said, calling this a “pivotal moment in the peace process.”

NATO
Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg heralded the agreement as a “first step
to lasting peace.”

“The
way to peace is long and hard. We have to be prepared for setbacks, spoilers,
there is no easy way to peace but this is an important first step,” the
former Norwegian prime minister told reporters in Kabul.

The
European Union welcomed the peace agreement by the Taliban and the United
States and the joint Afghan-U.S. joint declaration as “important first
steps” toward a lasting resolution of the country’s decades-long conflict.

Under the
agreement, the United States would draw its forces down to 8,600 from 13,000 in
the next three to four months, with the remaining U.S. forces withdrawing in 14
months. The complete pullout, however, would depend on the Taliban meeting
their commitments to prevent terrorism.

NATO
pledged to adjust the coalition troop levels in the first phase too, bringing
down NATO’s numbers to about 12,000 from roughly 16,000 troops at present.

At a press
conference at the White House later on February 29, Trump said he will “be
meeting personally with Taliban leaders in the not-so-distant future.”
Trump also said he thought negotiations between the Taliban and the Afghan
government would be successful because “everyone is tired of war.”

A U.S.-led
coalition of forces invaded Afghanistan in 2001 to drive the Taliban from power
after the group refused to hand over Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

Since then,
about 2,400 U.S. soldiers have been killed in fighting, along with tens of
thousands of Afghan soldiers, extremist fighters, and civilians.

Trump
campaigned on a pledge of pulling U.S. forces out of “endless wars.”
On February 28, he urged the warring sides to seize the opportunity to make
peace.

“Soon,
at my direction, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will witness the signing of an
agreement with representatives of the Taliban, while Secretary of Defense Mark
Esper will issue a joint declaration with the government of Afghanistan,”
Trump said in a statement.

“If
the Taliban and the government of Afghanistan live up to these commitments, we
will have a powerful path forward to end the war in Afghanistan and bring our
troops home,” Trump said.

“These
commitments represent an important step to a lasting peace in a new
Afghanistan, free from Al-Qaeda, [Islamic State], and any other terrorist group
that would seek to bring us harm,” Trump said.

With
reporting by RFE/RL’s Radio Mashaal, AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters, The New York Times,
and the BBC

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