Top envoy: US, Taliban agree to draft deal on counterterrorism, troop withdrawal

The United States and the Taliban have agreed to a draft deal on the issues of counterterrorism and troop withdrawal after two weeks of talks in Qatar that ended Tuesday, President Trump’s special envoy for Afghanistan negotiations said.

{mosads}“The conditions for #peace have improved. It’s clear all sides want to end the war. Despite ups and downs, we kept things on track and made real strides,” special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad tweeted Tuesday.

“Peace requires agreement on four issues: counter-terrorism assurances, troop withdrawal, intra-Afghan dialogue, and a comprehensive ceasefire,” he wrote in second tweet. “In January talks, we ‘agreed in principle’ on these four elements. We’re now ‘agreed in draft’ on the first two.”

After a finalized agreement on counterterrorism and troop withdrawal, he added, the Taliban and Afghan government would begin their own talks on a political settlement and cease-fire.

“My next step is discussions in Washington and consultations with other partners. We will meet again soon, and there is no final agreement until everything is agreed,” he concluded.

Khalilzad has been ramping up U.S. efforts to negotiate with the Taliban to end America’s longest war as Trump has pushed to withdraw U.S. troops from the 18-year-old conflict.

There are about 14,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan with a dual mission of training and advising, and assisting Afghan troops in their fight against the Taliban and conducting counterterrorism missions against groups such as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

After talks with the Taliban in January, Khalilzad said the United States and Taliban reached a preliminary framework that would see the Taliban agree not to allow Afghanistan to become a safe haven for terrorists to plot attacks against the West, which would allow the United States to withdraw its forces.

Khalilzad later added that he hopes to reach a deal by the Afghan elections in July or at least make significant progress by then.

The senior Trump administration official did not say in his tweets Tuesday when the next round of talks will take place.

In its own statement, the Taliban similarly said “progress was achieved” on both the counterterrorism and troop withdrawal issues, according to The Associated Press.

“For now, both sides will deliberate over the achieved progress, share it with their respective leaderships and prepare for the upcoming meeting, the date of which shall be set by both negotiation teams,” the statement said.

The Taliban also stressed that no cease-fire deal or agreement to talk to the Afghan government has been reached, according to the AP.

An unnamed Taliban official at the talks told the AP the main sticking point that remained was when U.S. forces would withdraw.

The Taliban wants a withdrawal within three to five months, while the United States says it will take 18 months to two years, the official told the wire service.

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