21 February 2020
A seven-day "reduction of violence" agreement between the United States and the Taliban group in Afghanistan begins on Friday.
A top U.S. State Department official said that, by the end of the month, the Taliban and the United States will sign a peace agreement.
The two sides plan to sign that peace agreement in Doha, Qatar, this month. If the "reduction of violence" is successful, the plan will make it possible for the U.S. to withdraw its troops from the country in time.
Seven Day Ceasefire
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement, "We are preparing for the signing to take place on February 29." He added that intra-Afghan negotiations between the Taliban and Afghan political leaders, will start soon after that. The goal of those talks will be a permanent ceasefire.
But the path to that goal is not clear.
It is still not known who will represent the Afghan government in the talks with the Taliban. An agreement between the parties is necessary if there is to be a lasting peace in the country. The Afghan election commission earlier this week declared President Ashraf Ghani the winner of the presidential election held in September. However, his opponents quickly protested his victory.
The Taliban also has refused to talk to Ghani's government and protested the election results. The group said that it will talk to government representatives but only as ordinary Afghans.
The Taliban released their own statement on the reduction of violence deal. The agreement involves an exchange of prisoners, planning for the intra-Afghan talks and preparations for all foreign forces to leave the country among other things.
The Taliban also said that the group will not permit "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."
The terms of the reduction in violence agreement include a seven-day ceasefire. The ceasefire bans roadside bombings, suicide attacks or rocket strikes. Five thousand Taliban prisoners are to be released from Afghan jails.
Reduction in foreign troops
U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper has said that if the seven-day ceasefire is successful, and the Afghan peace talks begin, the U.S. would reduce its troops "over time" to about 8,600. There currently are about 12,000 U.S. troops in the country.
In Brussels, Belgium, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg welcomed the developments. About 16,000 NATO troops are in Afghanistan. They are helping to train the country's security forces. The U.S.-led military alliance could reduce its operations to go along with a peace agreement.
"This is a critical test of the Taliban's willingness and ability to reduce violence, and contribute to peace in good faith," Stoltenberg said in a statement. "This could pave the way for negotiations among Afghans, sustainable peace, and ensuring the country is never again a safe haven for terrorists."
I'm Jill Robbins.
Kathy Gannon and Matthew Lee reported on this story for the Associated Press. Jill Robbins adapted it for Learning English. Mario Ritter, Jr. was the editor.
Words in This Story
intra-Afghan – adj. between Afghan
ordinary – adj. normal or usual; not unusual, different, or special
prosperous – adj. having success usually by making a lot of money
shade – n. an area of slight darkness that is produced when something blocks the light of the sun
critical – adj. extremely important
pave the way – expression. to make it easier for something to happen or for someone to do something
ensure – v. to make (something) sure, certain, or safe
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