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US-Taliban reach week-long violence reduction pact

MUNICH/WASHINGTON: The United States has reached pact with the Taliban on a week long reduction of violence that could lead to a US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, a senior administration official said on Friday, while cautioning that the insurgents must honor commitments for the accord to stick.

The deal was struck in protracted negotiations in the Qatari capital Doha and was announced after a meeting between US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference.

The accord – if it holds – could pave the way for an agreement by the end of the month on a US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, a long-sought objective for U.S. President Donald Trump, who has vowed to stop the “endless wars” as he seeks re-election in November.

“It was violence that derailed the signing of the agreement in September. Now we have an agreement on the reduction of violence. And, should the Talibs implement what they’ve committed to doing, we will move forward with the agreement,” the senior administration official told reporters in Munich.

The seven-day period has not yet started, but will go into effect soon, the official said.

There were no immediate comments from Ghani’s government or the Taliban.

LONG PATH TO PEACE DEAL

A U.S. withdrawal agreement would be followed by negotiations on a political settlement between the Taliban and an Afghan delegation that would include government officials. One of the first issues would be a nationwide ceasefire.

The so-called intra-Afghan dialogue, however, is likely to be difficult and protracted. The Taliban have refused to speak directly to the government, which they denounce as a U.S. puppet. Kabul’s negotiating team has yet to be named, and there has been long wrangling over its composition.

It also remained to be seen if the Taliban leadership has full control over all its fighters.

The senior U.S. official made clear that a full U.S. withdrawal will depend on the Taliban fulfilling commitments to end their close ties with al Qaeda and other extremist groups.

The official said the reduction in violence agreement was very specific and covered all Afghan forces. The U.S. military would monitor violence levels to verify whether the Taliban were honoring it.

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