US, Taliban sign Afghan peace deal today to end 18 years of war

AFGHANISTAN-UNREST

Taliban fighters

Taliban fighters

The United States and the Taliban are set to sign a long-sought deal in Doha today to end 18 years of bloody and brutal conflict.

The deal would see the two foes agree to the withdrawal of thousands of US troops from Afghanistan in return for insurgent guarantees.

President Donald Trump urged the Afghan people to embrace the chance for a new future, saying the deal held out the possibility of ending the 18-year conflict.

“If the Taliban and the government of Afghanistan live up to these commitments, we will have a powerful path forward to end the war in Afghanistan and bring our troops home,” he said on the eve of the event.

Trump said he was sending Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to witness the signing of the treaty, and that Defense Secretary Mark Esper would separately issue a joint declaration with the Kabul government.

The agreement is expected to lead to a dialogue between the Kabul government and the Taliban that, if successful, could ultimately see the Afghan war wind down.

But the position of the Afghan government, which has been excluded from direct US-Taliban talks, remains unclear and the country is gripped by a fresh political crisis amid contested election results.

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The deal, drafted over a tempestuous year of dialogue marked by the abrupt cancellation of the effort by Trump in September, is expected to lay out a timetable for a US force withdrawal.

“There’s been so much speculation about the contents of the deal… we know the broad outlines but it’s not even clear whether the full terms of the deal will be made public,” said Andrew Watkins, senior analyst at the International Crisis Group consultancy.

While Kabul will not be represented at the Doha signing, set for around 1245 GMT, it will send a six-person task force to the Qatari capital to make initial contact with the Taliban political office, established in 2013.

As many as 30 nations are expected to be represented at Saturday’s signing in the Qatari capital. The US will stage a separate ceremony in Kabul with the Afghan government at 1215 GMT, an Afghan source told AFP.

The inking of the deal will come after a week-long, partial truce that has mostly held across Afghanistan aimed at building confidence between the warring parties and showing the Taliban can control their forces.

While isolated attacks have continued in rural areas, Pompeo said Tuesday that the truce period was “working”.

“We’re on the cusp of an enormous, enormous political opportunity,” he said.