NEW YORK, Feb 21 (APP):The United States and the Afghan Taliban have reached an “understanding” that could lead to “a significant and nationwide reduction in violence across Afghanistan” – and ultimately, end America’s oldest war, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced Friday.
“After decades of conflict, we have come to an understanding with the Taliban on a significant reduction in violence across Afghanistan,” Pompeo wrote on Twitter, describing the latest development as “an important step on a long road to peace,” and calling on Afghans “to seize this opportunity”.
Pompeo, in a statement released by the State Department, offered further details regarding the “extensive talks” between the two parties, which, he said, were intended to “facilitate a political settlement to end the war in Afghanistan, reduce United States and Allied Forces presence, and ensure that no terrorist group ever uses Afghan soil to threaten the United States or our allies.”
Pompeo said that US negotiators in Doha, Qatar, arrived at the understanding with the Taliban in recent weeks in consultation with the Afghan government. Upon the “successful implementation” of the understanding, “signing of the US-Taliban agreement is expected to move forward” at the end of February, Pompeo said.
“Intra-Afghan negotiations will start soon thereafter, and will build on this fundamental step to deliver a comprehensive and permanent ceasefire and the future political roadmap for Afghanistan,” Pompeo said.
“The only way to achieve a sustainable peace in Afghanistan is for Afghans to come together and agree on the way forward.”
He added that “challenges remain, but the progress made in Doha provides hope and represents a real opportunity.”
The announcement from Pompeo comes after he and Defence Secretary Mark Esper met last week with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on the sidelines of an international security forum in Munich. An American official said then that the US and the Taliban had reached a truce agreement for a seven-day “reduction in violence” to be followed by the start of all-Afghan peace talks within 10 days.
In an op-ed published Thursday by The New York Times, the Taliban’s deputy leader Sirajuddin Haqqani acknowledged the various concerns and challenges posed by the outcome of a peace deal with the US — including doubts related to resolving “intra-Afghan disagreements,” the need to maintain the “support of the international community,” and fears that Afghanistan will be “used by disruptive groups to threaten regional and world security.”
Although Haqqani warned that the Taliban was “very far from fully trusting” the American government, he insisted that the group was “fully committed to carrying out … every single provision, in letter and spirit” of a ceasefire agreement.
Despite the latest advancements by American and Taliban representatives in brokering a settlement, any upcoming accord could be complicated by an intensifying political crisis in Kabul. After Afghanistan’s independent election commission declared Tuesday that President Ghani won the country’s contentious presidential election in September, the Taliban and Ghani’s chief opponent, Abdullah Abdullah, refused to recognize his victory.
According to a senior administration official, State Department officials are speaking with Afghan leaders about “forging a political path forward”.
President Donald Trump has long sought to wind down America’s military presence in the Middle East, eager to fulfill his campaign trail pledge of extricating US troops from the region’s “endless wars”. But the prospect of negotiations with the Taliban has proved to be a sensitive and divisive subject even among senior members of his own administration.
The president ousted former National Security Adviser John Bolton in September after media outlets reported that the hawkish aide had tried to stop him from inviting leaders of the Afghan Taliban to Camp David for peace talks.
Trump ultimately scrapped that plan, blaming the cancellation of the secret summit on a Taliban suicide attack in Kabul that had killed a US soldier and 11 other people. Following the breakdown in negotiations, the Pentagon confirmed in October that it had stepped up its attacks on militants in Afghanistan on the president’s orders.
But on a surprise trip to Afghanistan in November, Trump pledged during a meeting with Ghani that he would resume the scuttled discussions with the Taliban in the aftermath of a successful prisoner swap that resulted in the freeing of two Western hostages, including an American.
Since then, the Taliban’s ruling council agreed in December to a temporary ceasefire ahead of a possible US peace deal, although violence in Afghanistan has continued. Several American service members were either injured or killed and Afghan military personnel were also fired on earlier this month in the country’s eastern Nangarhar province, where both the Taliban and the Islamic State group affiliate operate.
Trump has previously boasted that he could easily bring a quick resolution to the war in Afghanistan, albeit at a tremendous cost to life, claiming in July that “I could win that war in a week. I just don’t want to kill 10 million people.”
Should the understanding with the Taliban announced Friday prompt the conclusion of the 18-year conflict, Trump is likely to tout it as yet another major foreign policy accomplishment during his reelection bid — promoting a potential peace agreement in the same way he has referenced the killings of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and Iranian Maj Gen Qassem Soleimani to burnish his credentials as commander in chief.