Acknowledging a military stalemate after nearly two decades of conflict, the US on Saturday signed a peace agreement with the Taliban that is aimed at ending the US’ longest war and bringing US troops home from Afghanistan more than 18 years after they invaded in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
The historic deal, signed by chief negotiators from the two sides and witnessed by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, could see the withdrawal of all US and allied forces in the next 14 months and allow US President Donald Trump to keep a key campaign pledge to extract the US from “endless wars.”
However, it could also easily unravel, particularly if the Taliban fail to meet their commitments.
At the White House, Trump told reporters that the US deserves credit for having helped Afghanistan take a step toward peace.
He spoke cautiously of the deal’s prospects for success and warned the Taliban against violating its commitments.
“We think we’ll be successful in the end,” he said, referring to all-Afghan peace talks and a final US exit.
He said he will be “meeting personally with Taliban leaders in the not-too-distant future,” and described the group as “tired of war.”
He did not say where or why he plans to meet with Taliban leaders.
He said he thinks they are serious about the deal they signed, but warned that if it fails, the US could restart combat.
“If bad things happen, we’ll go back” in with military firepower, Trump said.
Pompeo was also cautious.
“Today, we are realistic. We are seizing the best opportunity for peace in a generation,” Pompeo said in the Qatari capital, Doha. “Today, we are restrained. We recognize that America shouldn’t fight in perpetuity in the graveyard of empires if we can help Afghans forge peace.”
Under the agreement, the US would draw its forces down to 8,600 from 13,000 in the next three to four months, with the remaining US forces withdrawing in 14 months.
The complete pullout would depend on the Taliban meeting their commitments to prevent terrorism, including specific obligations to renounce al-Qaeda and prevent that group or others from using Afghan soil to plot attacks on the US or its allies.
The deal sets the stage for intra-Afghan peace talks to begin next week, with the aim of negotiating a permanent ceasefire and a power-sharing agreement between rival Afghan groups.
It is perhaps the most complicated and difficult phase of the plan.
However, it does not tie the US’ withdrawal to any specific outcome from the all-Afghan talks, US officials said.
Pompeo said that “the chapter of American history on the Taliban is written in blood,” adding that while the road ahead would be difficult, the deal represented “the best opportunity for peace in a generation.”
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