US announces partial Taliban truce, Trump says peace deal ‘close’

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BRUSSELS, Feb 14, 2020 (BSS/AFP) – The United States said Thursday it has
secured a seven-day reduction in violence in Afghanistan that it hopes will
allow it to strike a deal with the Taliban, as President Donald Trump said a
peace accord was “very close.”

US Defense Secretary Mark Esper announced the partial truce proposal
following a NATO meeting in Brussels — a day after Afghan President Ashraf
Ghani reported “notable progress” in negotiations with the Islamist
extremists.

In a radio interview later Thursday, Trump said the United States and the
Taliban were nearing a peace agreement — although it was not clear if he was
talking about the limited pause in hostilities agreed with the guerrillas or
something broader.

“I think we’re very close. I think there’s a good chance that we’ll have a
deal and we’ll see,” Trump said, more than 18 years after the US invaded to
overthrow the then Taliban government in the wake of the September 11
attacks.

“That doesn’t mean we’ll have one but we’ll know over the next two weeks,”
Trump added.

Esper did not say when the partial truce agreed would begin, but a Taliban
official previously told AFP the group would begin a “reduction of violence”
on Friday.

“We’ve said all along that the best, if not the only, solution in
Afghanistan is a political agreement. Progress has been made on that front
and we’ll have more to report on that soon, I hope,” Esper said.

“It is our view that seven days for now is sufficient but in all things our
approach to this process will be conditions-based, I will say it again,
conditions-based,” Esper said.

“So it will be a continual evaluative process as we move forward, if we go
forward.”

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, speaking to reporters on board a plane
to the Munich Security Conference where he is expected to meet Ghani, said
talks had “made real progress over the past couple of days.”

“We hope we can get to a place where we can get a significant reduction in
violence not only on a piece of paper but demonstrated, the capability to
actually deliver a serious reduction in violence in Afghanistan,” he said.

“If we can get there, if we can hold that posture for a while, then we’ll
be able to begin the real, serious discussion, which is all the Afghans
sitting at a table, finding a true reconciliation, a path forward.”

Washington and the insurgents have been locked in gruelling talks that have
stretched over more than a year, seeking an end to what has already become
America’s longest war.

– ‘Long overdue’ –

Citing Afghan and US officials, The New York Times has reported that Trump
had given conditional approval to a deal with the Taliban to allow him to
start withdrawing US troops.

“It will be a difficult set of conversations, one that’s long overdue,”
Pompeo said. “It would also give us the opportunity to reduce the footprint
not only for America’s forces there but for all forces.”

The United States currently has between 12,000 and 13,000 troops in
Afghanistan.

The only other time there has been a Taliban ceasefire since the regime’s
overthrow was in 2018, during the first three days of Eid al-Fitr at the end
of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

It led to moving scenes such as Afghans sharing ice cream with Taliban
fighters and snapping selfies. But afterwards, the violence resumed.

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 US government watchdog report.

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