US signs deal with Taliban to reduce troops in Afghanistan
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Qatar’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani attend the signing of a US-Taliban agreement in the Qatari capital Doha on February 29, 2020. – Washington and the Taliban are set to sign a landmark deal in Doha that would see them agree to the withdrawal of thousands of US troops from Afghanistan in return for insurgent guarantees.
GIUSEPPE CACACE/AFP via Getty Images
A peace deal was signed in the Qatari capital of Doha on Saturday, which aims to kick-start U.S. troop withdrawals from Afghanistan.
U.S. and Taliban negotiators signed the agreement at approximately 4 p.m. local time which will allow a reduction in American troops and targets a permanent cease-fire.
Afghans are eagerly anticipating that it will end the war, America’s longest ever, which began more than 18 years ago when President George W. Bush ordered bombings in response to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
U.S. troops will be reduced to 8,600 from about 13,000 within 135 days following the signing, which took place at the Sheraton hotel with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in attendance. Further drawdowns will depend on the Taliban meeting certain counter-terrorism conditions, but the aim is for a complete withdrawal of U.S. and NATO troops in 14 months, a joint statement read.
Pompeo addressed an audience at the ceremony in Doha, saying the agreement will mean nothing if concrete actions are not taken on commitments and promises. U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, not Pompeo, signed the peace deal alongside the Taliban’s chief negotiator, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar. It comes after more than a year of on-off formal talks.
President Donald Trump, facing elections this year and keen to fulfill promises of troop withdrawals from the Middle East, said Friday that “we will have a powerful path forward to end the war in Afghanistan and bring our troops home” if the Taliban and Afghan governments met their commitments. The Taliban has promised not to let extremists use Afghanistan soil to attack U.S. or allied troops.
Trump added Friday evening: “These commitments represent an important step to a lasting peace in a new Afghanistan, free from al-Qaida, ISIS and any other terrorist group that would seek to bring us harm.”
Several reports suggest the U.S. is wary of the Islamists it once toppled from power in Afghanistan and Trump has been significantly less vocal on the deal when compared with agreements signed with the likes of North Korea.
Pompeo privately told a conference of ambassadors at the State Department this week that he was going only because Trump had insisted, The Associated Press reported citing two people present.
The U.S. has spent more than $750 billion on the war in Afghanistan and it has cost tens of thousands of lives on all sides.
Speaking in Doha Saturday, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said his organization was prepared to adjust and reduce its presence in the country. However, he noted that that presence could increase again if conditions on the ground deteriorated.
The deal also includes the release of combat and political prisoners and the removal of sanctions on Taliban members by August this year.
—The Associated Press contributed to this article.