U.S., Taliban Near Framework Agreement to End 18-Year Afghan War

U.S., Taliban Near Framework Agreement to End 18-Year Afghan War

Taliban officials have repeatedly refused to talk to the Afghan government, which they regard as a USA puppet, throwing into question how effective a peace deal could really be.

US and Taliban representatives have edged closer to reaching a peace deal to allow American forces to withdraw from Afghanistan, negotiators have confirmed.

The draft deal was agreed after six days of talks in Qatar last week.

Before U.S. forces intervened after the September 11, 2001, attacks, the Taliban controlled the country through a brutal and oppressive regime.

The U.S. talks with the Taliban are aimed at ending more than 17 years of American involvement in Afghanistan's four decades of nearly continuous warfare.

USA and Taliban officials have agreed in principle to the "framework" of a peace deal, The New York Times quotes US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad as saying after five days of talks between the militant group and the United States in Qatar.

The statement quoted Zalmay Khalilzad as saying that he had discussed a cease-fire deal with the Taliban but that there was no progress so far on the issue.

The statement also claims the Taliban demanded from Khalilzad the withdrawal of all foreign troops from Afghanistan, but that there was no agreement on that.

"We have a draft of the framework that has to be fleshed out before it becomes an agreement", he told The New York Times in Kabul.

The peace negotiations in Doha, Qatar had previously been described on Saturday by Khalilzad as "more productive than they have been in the past", signaling the first significant shift in the geopolitical stalemate in years.

It is exploring a full withdrawal of U.S. troops in return for a ceasefire and a commitment by the Taliban to these direct talks.

They remain a top insurgent force in Afghanistan, with 17-year conflict causing between 6000 and 11,000 civilian deaths every year since 2009.

However the Taliban have long refused to speak directly to Ghani's government, branding them "puppets".

In a televised address on January 28, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani called on the Taliban to enter "serious" negotiations with the government in Kabul and "accept Afghans' demand for peace".

"Our commitment is to provide peace and to prevent any possible disaster", Ghani said in his address.

However, there is still no accord on a timetable for a United States withdrawal or a ceasefire - major issues on which previous attempts at negotiations have foundered.

Khalilzad met with the Taliban on a number of occasions in recent months - most recently last week in Qatar where the Taliban have a political office - in the latest bid to end America's longest war.

"No Afghans want foreign forces in their country for the long term", Ghani said.

The drafted plan could form the basis for a full American withdrawal from Afghanistan, where US forces have been battling Taliban fighters-and more recently the Islamic State militant group (ISIS)-for 17 years.

Australian combat troops were withdrawn in December 2013, but 400 personnel remain in Afghanistan as trainers and advisers. It added that Khalilzad has no authority to discuss such issues but that his goal is to facilitate an intra-Afghan dialogue - meaning direct talks between the Taliban and Kabul.

On Jan 27, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said that Pakistan's efforts helped bringing the United States and the Taliban to a negotiation table.

The Taliban and US officials have agreed to continue negotiations, though no date has been publicly announced.

Afghan security forces are already taking staggering losses, with 45,000 killed since late 2014, and morale is low.

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