President Donald Trump signaled Friday that U.S. officials are set to sign a historic peace deal with Taliban leaders this weekend, one that he hopes will help “bring our troops home” in the coming months.
In a statement, the president announced that 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” regarding the agreement. Those actions are expected to take place on Saturday.
“When I ran for office, I promised the American people I would begin to bring our troops home and seek to end this war,” Trump said in the statement. “We are making substantial progress on that promise.”
A U.S. official in Afghanistan said troops came under fire during an operation in Nangarhar Province.
The announcement comes after a seven-day ceasefire in Afghanistan and after more than 18 years of U.S. military presence in the country, the base of operations for the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Trump has pledged to end the ongoing war, questioning the need for American troops to continue to be stationed there. But over the last three years, the total of U.S. forces in the country has risen to more than 12,000, as military commanders have said additional forces were needed for training and security missions.
White House and Pentagon officials have discussed reducing that number to 8,600 — about the level they were when Trump was sworn in as commander-in-chief — in the coming months and even further after that. But they have also emphasized that any troop reductions will be “conditions-based,” and will depend on sustained work by Taliban forces to reconcile with the Afghan government.
Col. Sonny Leggett, a spokesman for U.S. Forces Afghanistan, tweeted early Thursday morning that airstrikes on Wednesday killed three ISIS fighters in Kunar Province and forced 34 ISIS militants to surrender to Afghan forces in Tswokey district.
“These commitments represent an important step to a lasting peace in a new Afghanistan, free from Al Qaeda, ISIS, and any other terrorist group that would seek to bring us harm,” Trump said in the statement. “Ultimately it will be up to the people of Afghanistan to work out their future.
“We, therefore, urge the Afghan people to seize this opportunity for peace and a new future for their country.”
Trump also praised “the hundreds of thousands of American warriors who have proudly served in Afghanistan” over the course of the conflict. Nearly 2,500 U.S. servicemembers have been killed there since the war began.
Despite the deal with the Taliban, American warplanes have continued to strike military targets belonging to other terrorist groups in the country over the last week.