The U.S. and the Taliban have agreed to reduce violence across Afghanistan — paving the way for both parties to shake hands on a peace agreement later this month.
“The United States and the Taliban have been engaged in extensive talks 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,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement Friday morning.
Following recent discussions between U.S. and Taliban negotiators in Doha, Qatar, Pompeo said there has been a mutual understanding for a “significant and nationwide” reduction in violence throughout Afghanistan.
“Upon a successful implementation of this understanding, signing of the U.S.-Taliban agreement is expected to move forward,” Pompeo said.
The agreement is expected to be inked on Feb. 29, according to Pompeo. Then, intra-Afghan discussions can start to “deliver a comprehensive and permanent ceasefire and the future political roadmap for Afghanistan,” he said.
“Challenges remain, but the progress made in Doha provides hope and represents a real opportunity,” Pompeo said. “The United States calls on all Afghans to seize this moment.”
U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad has led peace negotiations with the Taliban since 2018. Although discussions stalled in September after President Donald Trump called off a meeting with the Taliban at Camp David, peace talks resumed later in the year.
Javid Faisal, a spokesman for the Afghan National Security Advisor, said the reduction in violence will last a week.
“Based on the plan, the reduction in violence (RIV) will start between the Taliban and international and Afghan security forces for one week,” Faisal said, according to Reuters.
“We hope it is extended for a longer time and opens the way for a ceasefire and intra-Afghan talks,” he said.
Taliban leaders also told Reuters the understanding to cut down on violence would get underway Friday evening.
Pompeo’s announcement comes after the Taliban’s deputy leader Sirajuddin Haqqani — who is wanted by the FBI — penned an op-ed for the New York Times signaling a peace agreement was imminent and would result in the removal of all U.S. troops from Afghanistan. The U.S. could then support step postwar development and reconstruction after troops exit, he said.
“My fellow Afghans will soon celebrate this historic agreement,” Haqqani said. “Once it is entirely fulfilled, Afghans will see the departure of all foreign troops.”
Pompeo did not specify in his statement how many U.S. troops would be cut, if the reduction in violence proves successful and a peace agreement advances. However, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper has suggested 8,600 U.S. troops would stay in Afghanistan to conduct counterterrorism missions, in addition to train, advise, and assist missions.
Approximately 13,000 U.S. troops currently remain in Afghanistan. Combat casualties among U.S. troops reached a five-year in 2019, and includes the hostile deaths of 14 soldiers and 3 Marines.
This is a breaking story. Please check back for updates.