Mike Pompeo arrives in Qatar to witness signing of historic deal with Taliban


The United States will begin withdrawing thousands of forces from Afghanistan after signing a peace agreement with Taliban militants aimed at ending America’s longest war. 

U.S. troop levels are to drop to 8,600 from about 13,000 in the four to five months following Saturday’s signing. 

The withdrawal of all remaining forces, within 14 months, will depend on the Taliban meeting certain counter-terrorism conditions, compliance that will be assessed by the United States.   

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrived in the Qatari capital Doha from Washington.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Qatar’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani attend the signing of a US-Taliban agreement in the Qatari capital Doha today 

Taliban leader Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, who served as ambassador to Pakistan during the Taliban's rule, speaks to the media in Doha, Qatar today

Taliban leader Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, who served as ambassador to Pakistan during the Taliban’s rule, speaks to the media in Doha, Qatar today 

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrives to the signing of a US-Taliban agreement in the Qatari capital Doha today. Washington and the Taliban are set to sign a landmark deal in Doha that would see them agree to the withdrawal of thousands of US troops from Afghanistan in return for insurgent guarantees

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrives to the signing of a US-Taliban agreement in the Qatari capital Doha today. Washington and the Taliban are set to sign a landmark deal in Doha that would see them agree to the withdrawal of thousands of US troops from Afghanistan in return for insurgent guarantees

U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper meanwhile travelled to Kabul on a visit that officials and experts said was aimed at reassuring the Afghan government about the United States’ commitment to the country.

For U.S President Donald Trump, the deal represents a chance to make good on his promise to bring U.S. troops home. But security experts have also called it a foreign policy gamble that would give the Taliban international legitimacy.

‘Today is a monumental day for Afghanistan,’ the U.S. Embassy in Kabul said on Twitter. ‘It is about making peace and crafting a common brighter future. We stand with Afghanistan.’

Hours before the deal, the Taliban ordered all its fighters in Afghanistan ‘to refrain from any kind of attack … for the happiness of the nation.’

Members of the Taliban delegation pray ahead of an agreement signing between them and US officials in Doha today 

‘The biggest thing is that we hope the U.S. remain committed to their promises during the negotiation and peace deal,’ said Zabiullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the hardline Islamist group.

Mujahid said it was ‘irritating and provocative’ that foreign military aircraft continued to fly over Taliban territory, but militia fighters were following the order to stand-down.

For millions of Afghans, the deal represents some hope for an end to years of bloodshed.

Trump did not say where the deal would be signed, but it's been previously reported that it would occur Saturday in Doha, Qatar

Trump did not say where the deal would be signed, but it’s been previously reported that it would occur Saturday in Doha, Qatar

‘Peace is extremely simple and my country deserves it. Today is the day when maybe we will see a positive change,’ said Javed Hassan, 38, a school teacher living on the outskirts of Afghan capital, Kabul.

Hassan’s children were killed in a bomb blast carried out by the Taliban in 2018. Since then, he has been writing letters to world leaders urging them to end the Afghan war. 

But prospects for peace remain uncertain given the next step is reaching agreement with the Afghan government.

Fighting group: This was the Taliban shortly before the 9/11 attacks. The group seized power and became the Afghan government by 1996, before the US led invasion which toppled them in the wake of the atrocities which hit the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and United Flight 93

Fighting group: This was the Taliban shortly before the 9/11 attacks. The group seized power and became the Afghan government by 1996, before the US led invasion which toppled them in the wake of the atrocities which hit the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and United Flight 93

Time for peace: Mike Pompeo will stand beside the leaders of the militant group whose fights are responsible for thousands of American deaths and who harbored Osama bin Laden before 9/11

Time for peace: Mike Pompeo will stand beside the leaders of the militant group whose fights are responsible for thousands of American deaths and who harbored Osama bin Laden before 9/11

Is this the future? General Austin Miller, the most senior US and NATO commander in Afghanistan, walked the streets of Kabul without body armor this week and posed for selfies as the 'reduction in violence' took hold

Is this the future? General Austin Miller, the most senior US and NATO commander in Afghanistan, walked the streets of Kabul without body armor this week and posed for selfies as the ‘reduction in violence’ took hold

Senior members of the Afghan government and countries surrounding Afghanistan have been concerned that the United States could abandon Kabul much like it was perceived to have left the region after the Soviet Union exited Afghanistan decades ago.

The accord also comes amid a fragile political situation in Afghanistan. The Independent Election Commission said on Feb. 18 that Ghani won a Sept. 28 vote beset by allegations of rigging, technical problems and other irregularities.

Afghanistan Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah rejected the results, claimed to be the victor and vowed to name a parallel government.

Michael Kugelman, deputy director Asia Program at the Wilson Center, said of Esper’s trip to Kabul that ‘Washington is essentially trying to show that its full strength is behind this deal and it wants to also indicate to Kabul that it’s fully behind Afghanistan as the peace and reconciliation process moves toward a formal beginning.’

‘(Esper’s trip is) perhaps an indication that the U.S. is ready to essentially accept the new government in Afghanistan,’ he added.

The war, which has killed tens of thousands of people, began when the United States launched attacks on Afghanistan just weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington by the Afghanistan-based al Qaeda militant group.

Washington accused the Taliban of harbouring al Qaeda and its leader Osama bin Laden, and with its allies ousted the group from power. But the Taliban has remained a potent force and currently controls about 40% of Afghan territory. 

Trump said in a statement on Friday said the deal will pave way for U.S. troop numbers to drop to 8,600 from about 13,000 in the weeks following the deal.

Initial defeat: In November 2001 the Taliban were in disarray Kabul fell. The Northern Alliance was holding prisoners like these, with the first U.S. ground troops having entered Afghanistan in October. But that was far from the end and in fact prompted the beginning of an almost 20-year war

Initial defeat: In November 2001 the Taliban were in disarray Kabul fell. The Northern Alliance was holding prisoners like these, with the first U.S. ground troops having entered Afghanistan in October. But that was far from the end and in fact prompted the beginning of an almost 20-year war

Further reductions of Western forces will hinge on the Taliban adhering to a ‘reduction in violence’ pledge, a condition that will be assessed by the United States.

A joint statement released by the U.S. and Afghan governments on Saturday said the United States and NATO would withdraw all troops in Afghanistan within 14 months if the Taliban upheld its commitments.

Foreign ministers and bureaucrats from Pakistan, Indonesia, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan arrived at the venue ahead of Saturday’s signing ceremony at the Sheraton hotel in Doha.

Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said his country wants a ‘responsible withdrawal’ of U.S. troops from Afghanistan.

Under the deal, the Taliban wants 5,000 fighters to be released from Afghan-run jails, but it is not clear whether the Afghan government will agree.

There are also questions about whether Taliban fighters loyal to hardline Islamist splinter groups will be willing to adhere to the reduction in violence agreement.

Some senior commanders of the Taliban in Doha for the signing said they will ensure that the U.S. and Afghan governments accept all the conditions laid down by the group, according to Afghan defence officials.

Sources in the Taliban earlier this month said they were prepared to launch a spring offensive and had recruited more than 6,000 fighters and suicide bombers if the agreement collapses.

 

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