US, Taliban close to reduction in violence agreement
WASHINGTON (AP) — The United States and the Taliban are close to an agreement on a temporary reduction in violence in Afghanistan in a move that could lead to all-Afghan negotiations aimed at ending the decades-long conflict.
The agreement would call for the Taliban and U.S. forces to refrain from conducting attacks or combat operations for seven days, according to a person familiar with the ongoing discussions who was not authorized to discuss the proposed agreement and spoke Tuesday only on condition of anonymity.
If the reduction in violence holds, the U.S. and Taliban would be expected to sign an agreement to begin talks involving the Taliban and Afghans from across the nation, including some who hold government positions but don’t represent the government. The Taliban has refused to negotiate with the Afghan government.
Many questions about the expected agreement remain unanswered and it’s unclear if President Donald Trump will sign off on the deal. Trump abruptly broke off the on-again, off-again U.S. talks with the Taliban in September after nearly a year of discussions with the insurgent group. Trump announced he had canceled a secret meeting with the Taliban leaders and the Afghan president at Camp David after a Taliban car bomb exploded in Kabul and killed 12 people, including a U.S. service member.
News of progress in talks comes after Trump and Vice President Mike Pence traveled Monday evening to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware to pay respects to two U.S. soldiers killed Saturday in Afghanistan when a soldier dressed in an Afghan army uniform opened fire with a machine gun.
The State Department declined to comment on negotiations beyond saying, “U.S. talks with the Taliban in Doha continue around the specifics of a reduction in violence.”
But on Tuesday, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani tweeted that he had received a call from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo “informing me of the notable progress made in the ongoing peace talks with the Taliban.”
“The Secretary informed me about the Taliban’s proposal with regards to bringing a significant and enduring reduction in violence,” Ghani said.
Ghani, Pompeo and Defense Secretary Mark Esper will all be in Munich, Germany, this week for a security summit.
Pompeo said recently that the U.S. is demanding “demonstrable evidence” from the Taliban that they can and will reduce violence in Afghanistan before sealing a deal aimed at paving the way for peace talks and the reduction and ultimate withdrawal of roughly 12,000 U.S. forces from America’s longest war.
The Taliban launched 8,204 attacks in the last three months of last year — up 17.6% over the 6,974 attacks initiated in the same time period in 2018, according to the most recent report issued in January by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction.
In 2019, the U.S. Air Force dropped 7,423 bombs on Afghanistan — up slightly from 2018, when it dropped 7,362 bombs on the war-shattered country, according to statistics from the U.S. Central Command Combined Air Operations Center.
The United Nations has blamed the increased U.S. bombing, at least in part, for a rise in civilian casualties in Afghanistan. For the first time since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001, the U.N. said Afghan government forces and its U.S. allies killed more civilians in the first three months of 2019 than insurgents.
The Taliban, who ruled Afghanistan with a harsh version of Islamic law from 1996 to 2001 and hosted Osama bin Laden as he masterminded the 9/11 attacks, say they no longer seek a monopoly on power. But the militant group now controls or holds sway over roughly half of the country. Many fear a full withdrawal of some 20,000 NATO troops would leave the Afghan government vulnerable to collapse, or unleash another round of fighting in a war that has killed tens of thousands.