United States and Taliban sign deal to withdraw troops from Afghanistan

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Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the leader of the Taliban delegation, signs an agreement with Zalmay Khalilzad, US envoy for peace in Afghanistan, at a signing agreement ceremony between members of Afghanistan's Taliban and the US in Doha, Qatar February 29, 2020. Reuters
Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the leader of the Taliban delegation, signs an agreement with Zalmay Khalilzad, US envoy for peace in Afghanistan, at a signing agreement ceremony between members of Afghanistan’s Taliban and the US in Doha, Qatar February 29, 2020. Reuters

Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the leader of the Taliban delegation, signs an agreement with Zalmay Khalilzad, US envoy for peace in Afghanistan, at a signing agreement ceremony between members of Afghanistan’s Taliban and the US in Doha, Qatar February 29, 2020. Reuters
The United States and the Taliban signed a deal on Saturday to start ending America’s longest war.

The deal, signed in Doha, laid out how the US will begin withdrawing troops with a reduction from about 12,000 soldiers to 8,600 over the next 135 days and a full withdrawal within the next 14 months.

The condition-based withdrawal will depend on the Taliban upholding their promise to cut ties with international terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda and to not use Afghan soil to host groups opposed to America.

The war, that started with the US invasion in Afghanistan in October 2001 shortly after the September 11 attacks, has killed tens of thousands of people, as well as around 3,500 US and coalition troops.

US Secretary of Defence Mark Esper, who visited Kabul on Saturday, said that the agreement will “pave the way for Afghan negotiations, so that a permanent ceasefire may be achieved. This will only happen if Afghans join together to embrace this opportunity. “

Mr Esper flew to Kabul for an afternoon to meet with President Ashraf Ghani and Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.

Ahead of the signing ceremony in Doha, they addressed the nation in Kabul.

“Thanks to Trump’s leadership, we are making progress in ending America’s longest wars,” Esper said, adding that “we join with real hope for the future of Afghanistan.”

For over a year, America and the Taliban have been negotiating a deal that could end the fighting and see international troops withdraw. At a ceremony in Doha on Saturday, Zalmay Khalilzad, the lead US negotiator, sat with representatives of the Taliban to sign the deal.

In detail, the document lays out the next steps for the country and while it doesn’t end the war overnight, it offers a way forward for both US troops withdrawal and the beginning of an intra-Afghan dialogue between the Taliban and the Afghan government.

“In the last week, we have seen a reduction in violence,” President Ghani said from his palace in Kabul. “This will help in direct negotiations with the Taliban. All people of Afghanistan are looking forward to permanent peace.”

Although a first step has been laid out, many believe that intra-Afghan talks might pose a bigger challenge.

Hours before the deal, the Taliban ordered all its fighters in Afghanistan “to refrain from any kind of attack … for the happiness of the nation.”

Sergeant Jay Kenney, 26, with the 101st Airborne Division, Task Force Destiny, assists wounded Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers off the Blackhawk UH-60A helicopter after they were rescued in an air mission in Kandahar on December 12, 2010 in Kandahar province, Afghanistan.
Sergeant Jay Kenney, 26, with the 101st Airborne Division, Task Force Destiny, assists wounded Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers off the Blackhawk UH-60A helicopter after they were rescued in an air mission in Kandahar on December 12, 2010 in Kandahar province, Afghanistan.

 

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Taliban chief Hibatullah Akhundzada called on all fighters to respect the deal and said all male and female compatriots will be given their “due rights”.

Mr Stoltenberg, the head of the international alliance that has a significant presence in Afghanistan, said the body supports the agreement and is ready to drawdown forces in accordance with the terms.

“Peace is long and hard and we have to be prepared for setbacks and spoilers … Nato supports this peace deal,” said Mr Stoltenberg.

While he said the force was ready to reduce its numbers, it could increase their presence again if the situation deteriorated.

According to the agreement signed in Doha, American forces could leave Afghanistan within 14 months.

But Mr Esper made clear that all the points being signed were interlinked – they must all be implemented by the Taliban for the deal to go ahead.

“I would like to say it will full clarity: all the points in the agreement are conditional. They will only be implemented if the Taliban respects and implements the conditions. The withdrawal of forces depends on it,” he said during a ceremony in Kabul acknowledging the signing of the deal in Doha.

Mr Ghani also sought to ease concerns over the next phase for the country if international forces start to leave.