Trump says peace deal with Taliban “very close” as partial truce announced

 Donald Trump

WASHINGTON, Feb 14 (NNN-AGENCIES) – Pres Donald 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 in a radio interview on Thursday.

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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

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.”

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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