US and Taliban agree seven-day 'reduction in violence' amid hopes of Afghanistan peace deal
The US and the Taliban have agreed a seven-day “reduction in violence” – potentially as the precursor to a more lasting and long-sought peace deal.
US defence secretary Mark Esper told reporters at Nato headquarters in Brussels, that the arrangement, which he did not describe as a ceasefire, came after a series of negotiations with members of the Taliban.
Donald Trump, who campaigned to become president with a plan to remove the US troops from foreign wars, last Autumn had announced that talks with the Taliban leadership, and a possible visit to the presidential retreat in Camp David, had been halted.
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He claimed the Taliban had not met its undertaking to reduce violence, though in reality both sides had been stepping up military operations as the talks progressed, something that is not uncommon.
“The United States and the Taliban have negotiated a proposal for a seven-day reduction in violence,” said Mr Esper.
“I’m here today consulting with allies about this proposal, and we’ve had a series of productive bilateral and collective meetings about the path forward.”
Meanwhile, in Germany, secretary of state Mike Pompeo told the media travelling with him, that Mr Trump had given the authority to continue the talks and Washington was seeking a significant reduction in violence before more deeper discussions involving all Afghans could.
“[There has been a] pretty important break through,” Mr Pompeo said on Thursday.
The Reuters news agency said sources had said a US-Taliban peace deal could be signed this month if the Taliban significantly reduced violence, which could lead to an eventual withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan.
The developments came a a day after Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said there had been a possible breakthrough in US-Taliban talks in Qatar.
Suhail Shaheen, a spokesman for the Taliban’s political office in the Qatari capital Doha, said progress has been made, but refused to share further details.
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Doha has been the venue for talks between the warring sides since 2018 even as fighting has continued across the country, killing hundreds of civilians and soldiers as the Taliban have expanded their territorial control.
A former senior Afghan official said on condition of anonymity that Mr Ghani would discuss the negotiations with Mr Pompeo this week on the sidelines of the annual security conference they were attending in the German of Munich.
The talks had been deadlocked in part over a US demand that the insurgents agree to sharply reduce violence as part of any American troop withdrawal accord.
There are about 13,000 US troops as well as thousands of other Nato personnel in Afghanistan, 18 years after a US and UK-led coalition invaded the country following attacks of September 11.
“It will be a continual evaluative process as we go forward – if we go forward,“ said Mr Esper.