Pompeo expects US-Taliban agreement to be signed on Feb. 29

Pompeo expects US-Taliban agreement to be signed on Feb. 29
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Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Friday said that the United States has reached an “understanding” with the Taliban on a reduction of violence across Afghanistan, paving the way for a peace agreement between both sides to be signed on Feb. 29.

Pompeo said in a statement early in the morning that, after discussions in Doha, Qatar, U.S. and Taliban representatives “have come to an understanding with the Taliban on a significant and nationwide reduction in violence across Afghanistan.” A deal is expected to be signed if the weeklong agreement to reduce violence holds. 

“Upon a successful implementation of this understanding, signing of the U.S.-Taliban agreement is expected to move forward. We are preparing for the signing to take place on February 29,” Pompeo said. The violence reduction is expected to begin after midnight Friday, according to The Washington Post. 

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“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 secretary of State continued. “The only way to achieve a sustainable peace in Afghanistan is for Afghans to come together and agree on the way forward.”

The announcement comes nearly a year after U.S. and Taliban negotiators began talks aimed at securing a political settlement to end the conflict in Afghanistan. The effort has been one of President Trump’s major foreign policy priorities; Trump has long pledged to bring an end to “endless wars” and withdraw American troops from foreign engagements. U.S.-Taliban negotiations were briefly suspended last fall when Trump canceled a plan to bring the Taliban to Camp David to continue negotiations after a suicide bomb attack claimed by the Taliban had killed an American in Afghanistan.

There have been signs in recent weeks that both sides were close to a deal, with White House national security adviser Robert O’Brien indicating in a speech earlier this month that the Trump administration was near securing an agreement with the Taliban. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said last weekend that a deal that involved a seven-day reduction of violence looked “very promising.”

“It’s my view as well that we have to give peace a chance, that the best if not the only way forward in Afghanistan is through a political agreement and that means taking some risk,” Esper said at the Munich Security Conference. “That means enabling our diplomats and that means working together with our partners and allies on the ground to affect such a thing.”

Pompeo acknowledged Friday that “challenges remain” in bringing the Afghan government, which has refused to take part in the peace talks, to the table, but he said the latest progress represented “real opportunity" and called on “all Afghans to seize this moment.” 

The U.S. currently has between 12,000 and 13,000 troops in Afghanistan. Pompeo did not say Friday how many troops would be withdrawn if a peace deal is reached, though Esper has indicated the U.S. would draw down forces periodically to about 8,600.

--Updated at 8:17 a.m.