Tuesday 17 September 2019

US says deal to end Afghanistan war ‘at the threshold’ as Taliban claims victory

A draft deal has been shown to Afghan leaders while a Taliban spokesman said the group was on the verge of ‘ending the invasion’.

An Afghan man reads a local newspaper about peace in Kabul, Afghanistan (Rahmat Gul/AP)
An Afghan man reads a local newspaper about peace in Kabul, Afghanistan (Rahmat Gul/AP)

By Rahim Faiez, Associated Press

A US envoy showed the draft of a US-Taliban agreement to Afghan leaders on Monday after declaring they were “at the threshold” of a deal to end America’s longest war, an official said.

Presidential adviser Waheed Omer in a Twitter post said envoy Zalmay Khalilzad again met with President Ashraf Ghani after an initial meeting on Sunday evening upon arriving from Qatar, where the ninth round of US-Taliban talks ended without a final agreement.

A deal on ending nearly 18 years of fighting is closer to reality even as the Taliban attacked the capitals of Kunduz and Baghlan provinces in the north over the weekend.

“We have reached an agreement with the Taliban in principle but of course until the US president agrees with it, it isn’t final,” Mr Khalilzad told the local TOLO news channel.

He said that under the deal, the first 5,000 US troops would withdraw within 135 days from five bases in Afghanistan.

Between 14,000 and 13,000 troops are currently in the country.

The Afghan government has been shut out of the negotiations as Taliban dismiss it as a US puppet, but intra-Afghan talks that include the government are meant to follow a US-Taliban deal.

The insurgent group is at its strongest since the US-led invasion to topple its government after the September 11 2001 attacks on the US.

The Taliban, who now control or hold sway over roughly half of Afghanistan, have stepped up attacks in recent months to strengthen their negotiating position.

The United Nations and others say civilians have suffered, often caught in the cross-fire as government forces, backed by the US, have pursued the militants with airstrikes and raids.

Afghanistan was the world’s deadliest conflict in 2018.

The Taliban want all of the estimated 20,000 US and Nato forces to leave the country and already portray their departure as the insurgents’ victory.

“We are on the verge of ending the invasion and reaching a peaceful solution for Afghanistan,” the Taliban spokesman in Qatar, Suhail Shaheen, said over the weekend.

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Afghan security forces (Bashir Khan Safi/AP)

For its part, the US seeks Taliban assurances that Afghanistan will not be a safe haven for extremist groups to plan and launch global terror attacks.

A ceasefire also has been discussed.

The agreement with the Taliban “will reduce violence and open the door for Afghans to sit together to negotiate an honourable and sustainable peace,” the Afghan-born Mr Khalilzad said before his Kabul arrival.

A US official with the negotiation team added that “any potential peace deal will not be based on blind trust, but will instead contain clear commitments that are subject to our monitoring and verification”.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to discuss the matter with the media.

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An Afghan volunteer stands guard outside a mosque (Rafiq Maqbool/AP)

The official added that a deal would lead to “intra-Afghan negotiations where the Taliban will sit with other Afghans and together they will commit to a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire”.

Unrest continued Monday outside the Baghlan capital of Puli Khumri as the Taliban blocked the main road leading south to Kabul with fuel tanker trucks, opening fire on any security forces that tried to approach, provincial council member Mabobullah Ghafari said.

The Taliban also blocked the two main roads heading north from Puli Khumri as gun battles continued, he said.

The situation inside the city was calm but residents remained fearful of attack, he added.

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A wounded man and a young boy receive treatment in a hospital, after a fight between Taliban and Afghan security forces in Kunduz (Bashir Khan Safi/AP)

At least 47 wounded people had been taken to hospitals since the attack began on Sunday morning, said Jawed Basharat, spokesman for the provincial police chief.

The interior ministry later said at least 51 Taliban fighters, seven civilians and six members of security forces had been killed, and said the Taliban soon would be eliminated from the area.

Kunduz was back to normal, the ministry added.

Separately on Sunday night, six pro-government soldiers were killed and three were wounded when Taliban fighters ambushed their patrol in Qarabagh district of eastern Ghazni province, said Arif Noori, spokesman for the governor.

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