U.S. says Taliban has agreed to reduction in violence in Afghanistan

The United States has reached agreement with the Taliban on a week-long reduction of violence that could lead to a U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, a senior administration official said on Friday.

The official told reporters at a security conference in Munich the agreement with the Taliban had yet to take effect.

The announcement followed a meeting between U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Defence Secretary Mark Esper and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani during the conference on Friday. It came a day after U.S. President Donald Trump said there was a “good chance” of reaching an agreement with the Taliban on a reduction of U.S. troops nearly two decades after the U.S.-led invasion of the country.

An agreement that leads to a major U.S. troop withdrawal could be a political boost for Trump, who has repeatedly promised to stop “endless wars” as he seeks re-election in November.

The senior administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the reduction-of-violence agreement is for seven days and covers the entire country and also applies to Afghan forces, even though the Afghan government has been excluded from the talks between the United States and Taliban in Doha, Qatar.

The official said it applies to all manner of attacks: “Roadside bombs, suicide bombs, rocket attacks is all written out.”

Should the Taliban comply, the official said, the agreement would be followed by the signing of an agreement that would initiate peace negotiations that include all Afghan sides.

A Taliban official familiar with the deal told The Associated Press the second agreement would be signed on Feb. 29 and that the inter-Afghan dialogue would begin on March 10. The officials said Germany and Norway have offered to host the talks but there has been no decision on the venue.

U.S. officials have not publicly spelled out their timetable for an initial drawdown of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, but the expectation is that a reduction from the current total of about 12,000 to approximately 8,600 will begin after the signing of a U.S.-Taliban deal. That initial reduction is likely to stretch out over a period of weeks or months.

Airstrike in eastern Afghanistan

Meanwhile, in fresh violence in Afghanistan on Friday, an airstrike killed at least eight people — all believed to be civilians, local residents said.

A vehicle carrying civilians was hit in the eastern province of Nangarhar, according to residents, killing eight people including a child. Taliban insurgents have a strong presence in the region.

A spokesman for the provincial governor of Nangarhar confirmed the attack but did not say who the victims were.

Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid said 11 civilians were killed in the strike.

While U.S. and Taliban negotiators pressed on with meetings in Doha, the Taliban and the Afghan government also reported fighting on the ground in the previous 24 hours.

An airstrike on Thursday evening killed a senior Taliban commander and eight others in northern Balkh province, the Afghan defence ministry said.

The Taliban’s Mujahid said the insurgents had killed six Afghan soldiers, including two officers, in an attack on a checkpoint in northern Kunduz province.

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