The United States is set to pull troops from five Afghan bases under a proposed deal with the Taliban, the US envoy leading talks with the group said in some of the first confirmed details of a much-anticipated accord.
Zalmay Khalilzad, who has spent about a year negotiating with the Taliban, said on Monday the draw-down would take place within about four months of a final deal being approved – provided the Taliban stick to their commitments.
“We have agreed that if the conditions proceed according to the agreement, we will leave, within 135 days, five bases in which we are present now,” Khalilzad told Tolo News.
Khalilzad arrived in Kabul following the latest round of talks with the Taliban in the Qatari capital, Doha, after which he said the two sides were at the “threshold” of a deal.
The prospective deal centres on US troop reductions in return for several security guarantees from the Taliban, as well as broader peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government and an eventual ceasefire.
But last week, President Donald Trump said the US would maintain a permanent presence – with 8,600 troops initially – even after a deal is reached with the Taliban.
So far, the Afghan government has been shut out of the negotiations as the Taliban dismisses it as a “puppet” of the US, but intra-Afghan talks that include the government are meant to follow a US-Taliban deal.
“The efforts of the US and other partners will yield results when the Taliban enters direct negotiations with the Afghan government,” Ghani’s spokesman Sediq Sediqqi told reporters on Monday.
“We hope these efforts will lead to an end to the conflict.”
In a statement, Afghanistan’s Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah said he was briefed and assured of “a thorough and sustainable peace in Afghanistan”.
Ghani has appointed a 15-member delegation to meet the Taliban at “intra-Afghan” talks slated to take place in Norway in the coming weeks.
On Sunday, Khalilzad said the US and the Taliban were closing in on a deal that would reduce violence and pave the way for “sustainable” peace.
But even as negotiations have entered their apparent final stage, violence has continued across Afghanistan.
On Sunday, the Taliban attacked Pul-e Khumri, the capital of Baghlan province. A day earlier, hundreds of its fighters overran parts of Kunduz, a strategic city and the capital of the eponymous province that the group has twice come close to taking in recent years.
On Monday, Afghan local media reported attacks were ongoing in the provinces of Kunduz, Takhar, Badakhshan, Balkh, Farah and Herat. The Kabul-Baghlan and Baghlan-Kunduz highways were also blocked.