The United States and the Taliban on Saturday signed a peace deal in Doha, Qatar, after months of negotiations, aimed at ending the 18-year long war in Afghanistan and which will pave the way for Washington to withdraw all its troops from the country within 14 months.
The agreement was signed between the representatives of the US and the Taliban in Doha in the presence of representatives of various countries.
Ahead of signing of the deal, US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo said the United States will closely watch the Taliban for their compliance with their commitments and calibrate the peace of the American withdrawal from Afghanistan with the group‘s action.
Pompeo made the remarks ahead of signing the peace deal with the Taliban aimed at ending an 18-year long war in the country.
“Efforts only became real when the Taliban showed interest in pursuing real peace & ending their relationship with Al Qaeda and other foreign terrorist groups. The agreement that we will sign today is the true test of this effort,” Pompeo said.
“We will closely watch the Taliban for their compliance with their commitments and calibrate the pace of our withdrawal with their actions. This is how we will ensure that Afghanistan never again serves as a base for international terrorists,” he added.
As per the joint declaration between Washington and the Afghan government, the US will withdraw all its forces from Afghanistan within 14 months.
The plan is ‘subject to the Taliban‘s fulfillment of its commitments under the US-Taliban agreement‘.
‘The United States reaffirms its commitments regarding support for the Afghan security forces and other government institutions, including through ongoing efforts to enhance the ability of Afghan security forces to deter and respond to internal and external threats, consistent with its commitments under existing security agreements between the two governments,‘ the joint declaration read, as reported by Tolo News.
As per the declaration, the US will reduce the number of US military forces in Afghanistan to 8,600 and implement other commitments in the US-Taliban agreement within 135 days of the announcement of this joint declaration and the US-Taliban agreement.
However, there is no obligation for the US to withdraw troops if the Afghan parties are unable to reach an agreement, officials said in Washington, DC on Saturday.
The US currently has some 13,000 troops in Afghanistan.
This is the level that General Scotts Miller, Commander of US and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation troops in Afghanistan, had earlier identified as necessary to fulfil his mission.
The withdrawal of troops and the agreement itself move in parallel processes, a senior administration official said.
“Our withdrawal is aligned with this agreement and is conditions-based. If the political settlement fails, if the talks fail, there is nothing that obliges the United States to withdraw troops,” said the official, who spoke on conditions of anonymity.
“That‘s not to say that the President doesn‘t have prerogatives as Commander-in-Chief of the United States of America to make any decision that he feels appropriate as our President, but there is no obligation for the United States to withdraw troops if the Afghan parties are unable to reach agreement or if the Taliban show bad faith in the course of this negotiation,” the official said.
Responding to questions, the official noted that the withdrawal of troops will not be immediate.
The reduction of troops to 8,600 is part of the initial agreement and it will play out over several months.
“It doesn‘t happen immediately. It takes a while to get out. It‘s not going to happen overnight. But that is the commander on the ground‘s recommendation, that is the President‘s intention, and that‘s in the agreement,” said the official.
According to another senior administration official, America‘s commitment to act on the drawdown is tied to the Taliban‘s action on their commitments in the agreement, which include in detail counter terrorism commitments, because that was US‘ priority concern, but also includes their engagement in these negotiations.
As far as the long-term goal, the President‘s aspiration remains ultimately to bring a political settlement here, end the war, and end the US military commitment to Afghanistan, the official said.
“The President does not seek a permanent commitment of US forces to a war in Afghanistan. There are a lot of ways that we can and will continue to work with the Afghan Government in the aftermath of a political settlement, and there‘s many venues of cooperation between us and them, but it is the President‘s ambition to reach a political settlement and have the United States forces leave and end the fight. That is his goal,” the official said.
IMAGES: Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the leader of the Taliban delegation, and Zalmay Khalilzad, US envoy for peace in Afghanistan, sign an agreement at a ceremony between members of Afghanistan‘s Taliban and the US in Doha, Qatar, on Saturday. Photographs: Ibraheem al Omari/Reuters
— with inputs from PTI