US, Taliban negotiate 7-day reduction in violence: Pentagon

US, Taliban negotiate 7-day reduction in violence: Pentagon

The U.S. appears on the verge of finally securing a peace agreement in Afghanistan, top Trump administration officials said Thursday, as they announced a short-term pact with the Taliban that calls for a seven-day reduction in violence across the country to clear the way for intensive direct talks. This applies to the Taliban and Afghans.

The prospective deal would see the USA pull thousands of troops from Afghanistan, while the Taliban would provide security guarantees and launch eventual talks with the Western-backed government in Kabul.

The new developments came as US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Mark Esper met Friday in Munich with Afghanistan's President Ashraf Ghani.

Large territories of the country continue to be under Taliban control.

Many are expressing ambitious hope: when both Afghan sides do start conversations, they'll agree on an official cease-fire straight away.

Ghani said U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had informed him by phone about the Taliban's proposal "with regards to bringing a significant and enduring reduction in violence".

"And I'm glad to see that intra-Afghan talks are supposed to start if this test is passed".

The United States is aiming to cut troop numbers to about 9,000, the diplomat said.

The weeklong reduction in violence, officials say, will pave the way for comprehensive talks on a peace agreement that could finally end the almost two-decade-long war.

The number of clashes between the insurgents and US-backed government forces jumped to record levels in the last quarter of 2019, according to a recent U.S. government watchdog report.

Although the Taliban is negotiating with U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, it refuses to talk directly to Ghani's government, which it denounces as a puppet of the West.

The ongoing negotiations mark the highest level of talks between the two sides since the USA ramped up peace efforts in 2018.

"Today I'll meet President Ghani and we'll discuss efforts to find a peaceful negotiated solution to the conflict in Afghanistan".

It led to moving scenes such as Afghans sharing ice cream with Taliban fighters and snapping selfies.

That agreement, culminating 16 months of talks, would initiate the peace negotiations and the withdrawal of United States troops.

When contacted, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahed told Anadolu Agency it was "too early to say something about the spring offensive".

The annual spring offensive announcement is something the militant group does every year to intensify their attacks, even though Taliban violence never really ceases during the harsh winter months.

While US and Taliban negotiators pressed on with meetings in Doha, Qatar, the Taliban and the Afghan government also reported fighting on the ground over the last 24 hours.

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