(Reuters) - The United States signed a deal with Taliban insurgents on Saturday that could pave the way toward a full withdrawal of foreign soldiers from Afghanistan and represent a step toward ending the 18-year-war there. Below are the key details.
WHAT IS THE AGREEMENT?
- The deal includes a timeline for the withdrawal of all U.S. and NATO troops from Afghanistan as well as guarantees from the Taliban that it will prevent militant groups including al-Qaeda from using Afghan soil to threaten the security of the United States and its allies.
- The agreement was signed in the Qatari capital Doha, which is the Taliban’s political headquarters and has hosted talks over the past year and a half.
- Senior Taliban leaders took part along with U.S. Special Envoy for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi.
- The agreement lays the groundwork for negotiations between the Taliban and the Afghan government - known as intra-Afghan talks - to end a war that began after the United States launched attacks on Afghanistan after the Sept. 11, 2001 hijacked plane attacks.
- The U.S.-Taliban agreement calls for a phased withdrawal of American and coalition forces and also requires the Taliban to initiate a formal dialogue with the Afghan government and other political and civil society groups on a permanent nationwide ceasefire and power-sharing in post-war Afghanistan.
- Bringing back troops from America’s longest war could be a boost for U.S. President Donald Trump as he seeks re-election in November.
- “The United States will reduce the number of U.S. military forces in Afghanistan to 8,600 and implement other commitments in the U.S.-Taliban agreement within 135 days of the announcement of this joint declaration and the U.S.-Taliban agreement,” the United States and Afghanistan said in a joint statement on Saturday.
- A full withdrawal of all U.S. and coalition forces would occur within 14 months of this deal getting signed, if Taliban fulfill their end of the deal, according to the text of the agreement.
- Up to 5,000 Taliban prisoners will be released and the Taliban will release up to 1,000 prisoners by March 10, according to the text of the deal.
- The United States will work with the UN Security Council to remove Taliban members from sanctions by May 2020, the accord says.
- The next step would be for negotiators to work out an agreement for comprehensive ceasefire and the future governance of the country. Officials and experts say this will pose serious challenges as the Afghan government has until now been sidelined.
- Even before getting to talks with the Taliban, Afghanistan’s two main political rivals - President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah - must settle a dispute over which officials, opposition members and activists should negotiate with the insurgents.
- That process was further complicated last month by competing victory claims by Ghani and Abdullah in a disputed Sept. 28 election.
WHAT LED TO SATURDAY’S ACCORD?
- The prospect of a peace arrangement with the Taliban has been raised by Afghan and U.S. leaders for more than a decade. Momentum towards the latest deal came after Trump appointed Khalilzad as his special envoy to Afghanistan.
- Progress had stalled several times, most notably in September when Trump canceled talks after an attack in Kabul that killed 12, including an American soldier.
- Talks began again in late 2019, culminating in a seven-day “reduction in violence” agreement that ended on Saturday with the Doha signing.
Reporting by Charlotte Greenfield; Editing by Frances Kerry
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