Defense

US defense chief says Taliban deal ‘looks very promising’ but not without risk

Defense Secretary Mark Esper said a deal with the Taliban that could lead to the withdrawal of U.S. troops in Afghanistan “looks very promising” but is not without risk.

Esper made the comments while speaking at the Munich Security Conference on Saturday, The Associated Press reported.

The defense chief said the administration has not reached a firm date on when a seven-day “reduction in violence” may begin. The deal is aimed at gauging the Taliban’s seriousness.

“So we have on the table right now a reduction in violence proposal that was negotiated between our ambassador and the Taliban,” Esper told an audience at the security conference, according to the AP. “It looks very promising.”

On Friday, Esper and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, who has been skeptical of the proposal negotiated with the Taliban.

The plan seeks to end attacks for seven days, followed by the signing of a U.S.-Taliban peace deal. Afghan peace talks would begin shortly after, in which the U.S. envisions a phased withdrawal of U.S. forces over 18 months.

Esper told reporters that if the plan is successful, it could reduce the amount of troops stationed in Afghanistan from 12,000 to 8,600 “over time.” 

“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 in Munich. “That means enabling our diplomats and that means working together with our partners and allies on the ground to affect such a thing.”

On Friday, lawmakers appeared wary of the peace talks, with Rep. Mac Thornberry (Texas), the top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, questioning how a stipulation for intra-Afghan talks would be enforced.

“How are you going to know if that’s real negotiation or if that’s a fig leaf?” he said.  

Meanwhile, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a close Trump ally and leading GOP voice on foreign policy, said he’s “willing to give it a try” and that the goal is “to show a semblance of good faith to start a broader discussion.”

Tags Lindsey Graham Mac Thornberry Mark Esper Mike Pompeo

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