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

Cheryl Sanders
February 14, 2020

President Donald Trump is gambling that direct engagement with the Taliban, which once provided a safe haven in Afghanistan for the al-Qaeda terrorist group, will help him meet a pledge when running for office in 2016 to get America out of what he called "endless wars".

At Munich, the USA and Afghan leaders will likely focus on finalizing just how violence reduction is defined, how it's monitored and how long it would have to last for the sign a deal with the Taliban, according to Michael Kugelman, the Wilson Center's lead Afghanistan specialist. "Progress has been made on that front and we'll have more to report on that soon, I hope", Esper said.

But they have been fraught with challenges, with Mr Trump declaring the talks "dead" in September.

Esper, during a press conference in Brussels, said that if the process goes forward there would be continuous evaluation of any violence.

"The best if not only way forward is a political agreement", Esper said at the NATO Defense Ministerial Conference in Brussels.

There are some 12,500 US troops in Afghanistan, as well as thousands of European forces participating in the NATO-led Resolute Support mission.

In December 2018, the Taliban announced they would meet U.S. officials to try to find a "roadmap to peace".

Progress toward reducing violence could usher in direct peace talks between the militants and the Afghan government to end the almost two-decade war.

Following nine rounds of US-Taliban talks in Qatar, the two sides seemed close to an agreement.

A short-term reduction in violence is being sought by the Taliban because they don't want to commit to a formal ceasefire until other components of a final deal are in place.

"The president had made it very clear that there will have to be a reduction in violence and there will have to be meaningful intra-Afghan talks for things to move forward", O'Brien said in remarks at the Atlantic Council. "They have to make real compromises around the negotiating table".

In the months since the deal collapsed, there has so far been no let-up in fighting.

Secretary of State Michael Pompeo told reporters on his plane en route to Munich on Thursday that there's been "a pretty important breakthrough" in the talks with the Taliban, and "the president gave us the authority to continue to have the conversations".

Led by special envoy on Afghan reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad, the US delegation has been negotiating with the Taliban mainly in Qatar since late 2018.

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