The United States and the Taliban have agreed to a temporary truce. A successful ceasefire could open the way for bringing American troops home from Afghanistan—and end 18 long years of war.
The peace deal calls for negotiations between Afghans on both sides of the conflict. The countrywide ceasefire would start next month. It requires a commitment from the Taliban not to harbor terrorist groups like al-Qaida. It also sets a timetable for withdrawing U.S. troops.
The truce marks a milestone in efforts to end America’s longest-running conflict. It’s also a step toward fulfilling President Donald Trump’s campaign pledge to bring U.S. troops home from foreign conflicts.
A U.S. official says the agreement for a seven-day “reduction in violence” is “very specific.” It covers the entire country, including Afghan government forces. A formal announcement could come as early as the weekend.
In the agreement, the Taliban has committed to a halt in bombings as well as rocket attacks. If the Taliban upholds its commitments, a U.S.-Taliban peace agreement would be signed in approximately 10 days.
The signing is set for February 29. Afghan talks will begin March 10. Germany and Norway have offered to host the talks, but there has been no decision on the venue. Much will depend on the results of these all-Afghan negotiations, if they get off the ground.
The agreement would provide for the release of 5,000 Taliban prisoners before the start of the negotiations.
For the Taliban, the proposal represents a way to gain the political legitimacy it never had in the late 1990s. That’s when the militants first came to power.
The new developments came as U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Mark Esper met Friday with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani. The officials arranged their meeting on the sidelines of an international security forum in Munich, Germany.
To make good on its promise to release Taliban prisoners, Washington will need Ghani’s cooperation.
U.S. officials have not publicly spelled out their timetable for an initial drawdown of U.S. troops in Afghanistan. But the expectation is that a reduction from the current total of about 12,000 to approximately 8,600 will begin after a U.S.-Taliban deal is signed.
A senior U.S. military officer told a small group of reporters that U.S. counterterrorism operations in Afghanistan against the Islamic State group and al-Qaida will continue. Those security efforts will be handled separately from the truce agreement.
He also said U.S. intelligence is adequate for determining whether the Taliban is making a trustworthy effort to reduce violence.
Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy calls the U.S. agreement a first step in the process.
“It’s going to take several weeks for this to unfold. But it’s very encouraging that we’re heading down a path to a political solution,” he says.
(In this 2001 photo, defecting Taliban fighters sit on a tank as they cross the front line near the village of Amirabad, northern Afghanistan. AP Photo/Dusan Vranic)