US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that a new truce with the Taliban is "an important step" as an agreed reduction in violence throughout the country took effect at midnight on Friday.
Spokesman for the Afghan National Security Council, Jawed Faisal, announced the truce would begin as planned, and said the council hoped the Taliban would "reduce violence as per the commitments”.
The US and the Taliban have agreed to a
seven-day reduction in violence ahead of signing a peace deal, which will pave the way to end America’s longest war in history - and almost two decades of US forces in Afghanistan.
"After decades of conflict, we have come to an understanding with the Taliban on a significant reduction in violence across Afghanistan. This is an important step on a long road to peace and I call on all Afghans to seize this opportunity," Mr Pompeo said in a post on social media.
While a vague term, the agreement means that the Taliban will not launch attacks in cities, on highways or against US bases, as well as the Afghan National Defence and Security Forces. The US will monitor developments throughout the next seven days.
Nato chief Jens Stoltenberg on Friday said a historic US-Taliban agreement had opened a route to sustainable peace in Afghanistan. "This could pave the way for negotiations among Afghans, sustainable peace, and ensuring the country is never again a safe haven for terrorists," Stoltenberg said in a statement.
Afghanistan’s capital Kabul remained quiet after today’s announcement.
President Donald Trump with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen Mark Milley addresses members of the military during a surprise Thanksgiving Day visit at Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan. AP
Trump's visit to Bagram Airfield outside Kabul was brief. Reuters
President Donald Trump said o the US had resumed talks with Taliban insurgents as he made a surprise trip to Afghanistan to celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday with troops. Reuters
A US soldier looks through night vision goggles while riding with the Presidential Motorcade. Reuters
US President Donald Trump shakes hands with Joint Chiefs Chairman General Mark Milley before addressing the troops at Bagram Air Field during a surprise Thanksgiving day visitin Afghanistan. AFP
On a brief visit to Bagram Airfield outside the capital Kabul, Mr Trump served turkey dinner to soldiers, posed for photographs and delivered a speech. AFP
Afghan's President Ashraf Ghani shakes hands with US President Donald Trump. AFP
Soldiers take pictures of US President Donald Trump. AFP
About 13,000 US troops remain in Afghanistan, 18 years after the United States invaded after the September 11, 2001 attacks. Trump said he planned to reduce the number to 8,600 without giving further details.
US President Donald Trump poses for selfies. AFP
US President Donald Trump serves Thanksgiving dinner. AFP
President Donald Trump, left, listens as Afghan President Ashraf Ghani. AP
President Donald Trump speaks during a surprise Thanksgiving Day visit to the troops at Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan. AP
U.S. President Donald Trump eats dinner with US troops. AP
the signing of the peace deal will see the beginning of US troop withdrawal. It will also trigger direct talks between the Taliban and the US-backed Afghan government in an effort to secure lasting peace.
"Upon a successful implementation of this understanding, signing of the US-Taliban agreement is expected to move forward. We are preparing for the signing to take place on February 29. Intra-Afghan negotiations will start soon thereafter, and will build on this fundamental step to deliver a comprehensive and permanent ceasefire and the future political roadmap for Afghanistan," the US State Department said.
President Ashraf Ghani was confirmed for another five-year term, although his election came amid challenges from his main rival Dr Abdullah Abdullah, who also claimed victory.
While a full ceasefire for the week couldn’t be secured, all parties agreed to a significant reduction in fighting.
"Both parties will now create a suitable security situation in advance of (the) agreement signing date, extend invitations to senior representatives of numerous countries and organisations to participate in the signing ceremony, make arrangements for the release of prisoners, structure a path for intra-Afghan negotiations with various political parties of the country and finally lay the groundwork for peace across the country with the withdrawal of all foreign forces and not allowing the land of Afghanistan to be used against security of others so that our people can live a peaceful and prosperous life under the shade of an Islamic system, Allah willing," the Taliban said in a statement.
The US stated that it has enough surveillance to monitor the Taliban’s adherence to the agreement.
The US still has between 12,000-13,000 troops in Afghanistan, but a peace deal could see numbers drop to an initial 8,600, with further withdrawal over the next three to five years.
Last year saw the highest number of civilian casualties since the beginning of the war in 2001. The US launched more than 7,000 airstrikes in 2019 alone, while armed insurgents, including the Taliban, staged around 25,000 attacks.
The Taliban continues to control more than half of the country, and an eventual deal between the Afghan government and the Taliban would see the group become part of the government.
The US and the Taliban have been negotiating a deal for the past year, with President Donald Trump abruptly cancelling talks last September, after a Taliban attack killed an American soldier and eleven Afghan civilians. In November, a surprise thanksgiving visit by Trump to Afghanistan put negotiations back on the table.
But while any reduction in violence is a crucial step to the signing of a US-Taliban peace deal, it is the least important part of the agreement, states Jarrett Blanc, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and long-term Afghanistan expert. “The intra-Afghan talks remain the hard part,” he said. “Neither the Taliban nor the government and legitimate opposition have a realistic agenda for those talks.
Ashraf Ghani, a former professor and World Bank employee, was declared President this week after disputed results dragged out the final election outcome for months. He narrowly secured his win in the contested race by garnering 50.6 per cent of the disputed vote. He will serve five more years as President. After being excluded from last year’s failed US-Taliban peace negotiations, the Pashtun politician demanded to play a bigger role in this year’s talks. But at the behest of the Taliban he was not invited to participate in the discussions. The reasons for his exclusion are two-fold, first, the Taliban does not recognise the legitimacy of the Afghan government. Second, the Taliban’s priority in the negotiations is the removal of foreign forces from the country, which can only be promised by American negotiators. As a result, Mr Ghani remains sceptical of the deal’s success. Being one step removed from the process, and having few other options available to him, Mr Ghani finds himself in a position where he must acquiesce to the final deal without providing much input into the terms. Mr Ghani's position is shaky going into the proposed intra-Afghan negotiations as both the Taliban and Mr Ghani's opponent Abdullah Abdullah are refusing to accept his presidential win. Photo: EPA
Abdullah Abdullah, a former eye surgeon, serves as the country’s Chief Executive. He is the only person to ever hold the title, which brings with it prime ministerial duties. The newly created post was the result of the US mediating an awkward power-sharing deal after the 2014 elections. Dr Abdullah has unsuccessfully sought the presidency three times. After losing the election to Mr Ghani this week, Dr Abdullah decried that he would form his own government and boycott the election results. He went so far as to call the country’s independent election commissions “unlawful.” With the peace deal aiming to ending a tense political stand-off between the Afghan government and the Taliban, it seems frictions within the Afghan government could lead to a new stand-off, one between Mr Ghani and his opponents, putting at risk the intra-Afghan discussions that are baked into the trade agreement. Photo: AP
Gen Abdul Rashid Dostum was controversially chosen as Mr Ghani’s vice-president in the 2014 election. But after a falling out, Gen Dostum decided to put his support behind Mr Ghani’s opponent Dr Abdullah in the latest election. The Uzbek former warlord has been the target of several assassination attempts and faces a litany of human rights accusations against him, which include claims of torture and rape. The Afghan army general has fleed to Turkey when accusations mounted against him in the past. In 2017, Gen Dostum's political rival Ahmad Ishchi said he had been abducted, tortured and raped by Gen Dostum. Several people came forward to say they witnessed the abuse, prompting Gen Dostum to flee to Turkey. Gen Dostum could interfere in the pending intra-Afghan talks, as he's expressed discontent with the election results and threatened to form a “parallel government.” No stranger to extremity, his erratic behaviour threatens the stability of Afghanistan’s government during this crucial peace process. Photo: Getty Images
Amrullah Saleh was Mr Ghani’s running mate in the 2019 election, and is set to take on the role of vice-president. Mr Saleh is an ex-intelligence chief who has not shied away from doling out fierce criticisms against the president. The Tajik politician enjoys grass roots support among young people, which provided an advantage to Mr Ghani’s campaign. Mr Saleh was the target of an attack against his office within the Kabul headquarters of the Green Trend party during the summer of 2019. The attack killed 20 people and injured 50, resulting in a six-hour operation to rescue more than 150 civilians trapped in the aftermath of the blast. The attack came just hours after Mr Ghani and Mr Saleh launched their election campaign. Photo: REUTERS
Sarwar Danish, a Hazara politician, was chosen for the role of second vice-president during Mr Ghani’s 2014 campaign. He retained the position in the latest election. Mr Danish has been strongly critical of the peace negotiations, emphasising that peace cannot be achieved by sidelining the government from talks. He called the reduction in violence agreement a “vague proposal” intended to deceive citizens and the international community. Photo: REUTERS
Hamid Karzai was the first elected President of Afghanistan and held the role for almost 10 years, reigning during much of the US war in Afghanistan. The Pashtun tribal leader was the first Afghan official to work alongside the Americans in attempting to forge a peace deal with the Taliban. In 2010, during his presidency, Mr Karzai made peace negotiations a priority. Unlike today’s negotiations, Mr Karzai attempted to negotiate directly with the Taliban, and invited a wide range of actors to the table, including the Americans, the Taliban, tribal leaders and other influential members of Afghan society. Photo: Reuters
As the leader of the Taliban, Mawlawi Hibatullah Akhundzada agreed to bring the insurgent group to the negotiation table. He is acting in an advisory role throughout the discussions, serving as the steering force for chief negotiator Mr Baradar. But it falls upon Mawlawi Akhundzada to make the final decision when it comes to whether the Taliban will accept the final deal. Last week, he threatened to pull out of the negotiations if the Americans did not respond formally to the Taliban’s seven-day offer for a reduction of violence. AFP PHOTO / AFGHAN TALIBAN
Abdul Ghani Baradar runs the Taliban’s political office in Doha and has taken on the role of chief negotiator for the insurgent group during these negotiations. He’s credited with helping to establish the group’s strong position in the country, having served as the number two in command for the group’s founding leader Mohammed Omar. He was a key senior operative for the group, who once held a reputation for being even-keeled, before he fled to Pakistan when the Americans arrived in 2001. Mr Baradar was arrested in a 2010 raid and remained in a Pakistani prison for eight years. His release is believed to have been a part of a deal struck between the Americans and the Taliban. Photo: AFP
Abdul Salam Hanafi is one of the central negotiators at the table representing the Taliban. He serves as deputy head of the group’s political office in Doha. On Monday, he said the Americans and the Taliban were already drafting the final peace agreement. He added that representatives from all neighbours of Afghanistan, the United Nations Security Council, Islamic countries and European Union would be invited to the ceremony that would be held in Doha if the deal is finalised. Mr Hanafi previously served as the Taliban’s deputy minister of education and held leadership positions in the country’s northern territories. As a senior member of the group, he was added to the United Nations sanctions list in 2001, accused of being involved in drug trafficking. Photo: AP
Suhail Shaheen has served as a public figurehead for the insurgent group throughout the negotiations. He is a fluent English speaker known to give interviews to international media outlets. During the Taliban’s rule in the country, which lasted from 1996 to 2001, Mr Shaheen served as the editor of the English-language Kabul Times newspaper. He's also held senior roles within the Taliban, such as deputy ambassador at the Afghan embassy in Pakistan. Many of the statements regarding the Taliban’s position in the negotiations are delivered through Mr Shaheen. Photo: AFP
US President Donald Trump is serving as the “closer” in the negotiations. In 2019’s negotiations, he took on a similar role by inviting the Taliban to Camp David to close the deal. Amid strife between his top advisers and the death of an American soldier in Afghanistan, Mr Trump abruptly declared the peace talks "dead." Mr Trump has proven to be more patient and flexible during this round of negotiations. If the withdrawal is accomplished, the American negotiators would have fulfilled a Trump campaign promise to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan, well-timed before the presidential election in November. Photo: EPA
US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad is the chief negotiator on the American side, colloquially referred to as “Zal,” he was the only Afghan working in the White House during the September 11 attacks. This is his second attempt to help US President Donald Trump finalise a peace deal with the Taliban. The Afghan-born diplomat, who serves as the main intermediary between the Americans and the Taliban, nearly finalised a peace agreement last year, before Trump abruptly cancelled the deal. While the heavy lifting of the negotiations is being led by Mr Khalilzad, the diplomat is working on behalf of the White House, the Pentagon and the US intelligence community, who must all agree to the final terms of the deal. Photo: AFP
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has served in many capacities throughout the negotiations, most notably acting as the US spokesman, delivering major updates about the US position to both the public and to Afghan officials. At the Munich Security Conference in February, Mr Pompeo held sideline meetings with key Afghan officials, including Mr Ghani and Mr Abdullah to discuss the negotiation process that appeared close to finalisation. Photo: AFP
US Defence Secretary Mark Esper has operated throughout these discussions on behalf of the 3,500 American and Nato service members that have been killed since 2001. His position remains cautiously optimistic. He called the reduction in violence proposal “very promising,” but holds on to scepticism regarding the success of its implementation. “The best if not the only way forward in Afghanistan is through a political agreement and that means taking some risk,” he said. Photo: REUTERS
US Army General Austin Scott Miller took over the post of commander of American and coalition forces in Afghanistan in 2018. During his tenure, Mr Miller ramped up air strikes in the country in the hopes of forcing the Taliban to the negotiation table. But it’s led to a further escalation as the Taliban responded with increasing violence in the country. Gen Miller has previously advocated for a smaller American presence in Afghanistan, stating that he does not require tens of thousands of US troops in the country to successfully fulfill the US combat and training operations. Photo: AFP
Qater is hosting the peace talks, with Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, the deputy prime minister and minister of foreign affairs, playing a mediating role in the negotiations. Sheikh Al Thani has been a liaison between the Americans and the Taliban from the beginning of the negotiations, sitting in on several of the key discussions. When the Taliban’s chief negotiator Mr Baradar delivered an ultimatum to the Americans, demanding they accept the offered seven-day reduction in violence, rather than the American’s requested 10-days, it was Sheikh Al Thani that mediated the deadlock, according to pro-Taliban media. Photo: AFP
Updated: February 22, 2020 10:02 AM