by Ayaz Gul
The United States has reached a draft framework agreement with the Taliban that will require American troops to vacate five military bases in Afghanistan within 135 days of the signing of the document.
U.S. chief negotiator Zalmay Khalilzad made the comment Monday while speaking to the largest private Afghan television channel TOLOnews. He said that 5,000 troops will withdraw from the bases. Currently, 14,000 U.S. troops are deployed to Afghanistan and there are seven known U.S.-run bases in the country.
“We have reached an agreement in principle but it is not final until the president of the United States approves it,” Khalilzad stressed.
He explained that Washington rented the bases from the Afghan government and violence will significantly reduce in areas from where the American troops withdraw.
In the first stage, Khalilzad added, Kabul and the neighboring Parwan province, where the U.S.-run Bagram military airfield is located, will see a reduction in violence. He said the text of the agreement will not be made public until Trump decides its fate.
Khalilzad said discussions are still under way between U.S. and Taliban negotiators about where and when the peace deal will be signed. He said that if the insurgent group attempted to return to power through military means in the post-peace deal Afghanistan it will be unacceptable and a “red line” for the U.S.
Earlier Monday, Khalilzad shared with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani “key details” of the deal but did not hand him a copy of the document that could bring an end to America’s longest military intervention abroad.
“He [Khalilzad] talked about the details of framework of that agreement that is going to be signed anytime in the near future. … So, we went through all those details and the president had a look at the details,” presidential spokesman Sediq Sediqqi told reporters in Kabul.
He refused to go into specifics of the agreement, saying the Afghan government will study the details to formulate its observations and share them with Khalilzad’s team.
“So, it will take a couple of days probably that we will get back to them and we will give them our observation,” Sediqqi said.
The spokesman insisted the U.S.-led peace effort would eventually lead to cessations of Taliban hostilities and direct peace talks between the Afghan government and the insurgent group.
There was no immediate reaction from the Taliban to Sediqqi’s assertions. The insurgents have persistently refused to engage in any talks with the Ghani government, dismissing it as an illegitimate entity and an American puppet.
Khalilzad announced Sunday via Twitter he had concluded the ninth round of peace talks in Qatar with the Taliban and was leaving for Kabul to brief Afghan leaders on his discussions with the insurgents.
Taliban political spokesman Suhail Shaheen also tweeted Sunday that the ninth round of talks with U.S. interlocutors ended successfully. “I assure our believing Mujahid nation that we are on the verge of ending occupation & peaceful resolution for Afghanistan,” Shaheen said.
U.S. President Donald Trump said in a television interview last Thursday that U.S. troops would be initially reduced to 8,600, and “then we make a determination from there as to what happens.”
Trump reportedly wants to pull out all U.S. forces from Afghanistan by the end of next year, allowing him to claim a foreign policy victory as he campaigns for re-election. The U.S. presidential election takes place in November 2020.
Washington maintains that the withdrawal would be “conditions-based” and stop if the Taliban reneged on the agreement.
In return for the U.S. military drawdown, the Taliban would renounce ties with al-Qaida and guarantee that Afghanistan would not be used to plot terrorist attacks against the United States or its allies.
U.S. officials have said the Taliban will also be required to open talks with a wide-ranging delegation representing all sections of Afghan society, including government officials.
In the midst of the peace negotiations, the Taliban have continued to launch major attacks and unsuccessfully tried to capture two key northern Afghan cities, Kunduz and Pul-e-Khumri, over the past several days.
The fighting and bomb attacks elsewhere in Afghanistan on Saturday and Sunday have reportedly killed around 200 people, including combatants and civilians.
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Ayaz Gul is a VOANews reporter.