The broader agreement is nearly identical to one negotiated in September that was canceled by President Trump after a Taliban attack that killed a U.S. soldier before it could be signed. The newly negotiated week-long reduction in violence, which is to encompass all of Afghanistan and include Taliban, U.S. and Afghan forces, is designed to show good faith on both sides.
“Should the Talibs implement what they’ve committed to doing, we will move forward” with the broader deal, said a senior Trump administration official who briefed reporters in Munich after a meeting there between Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
“The reduction-of-violence agreement is very specific,” the official said. “There’s detail that includes … roadside bombs, suicide bombs, rocket attacks.”
In a statement released by Ghani’s office Saturday, the Afghan president said “the agreement” will be finalized next week and will have “conditional content.”
Ghani added that he was assured by Pompeo and Defense Secretary Mike T. Esper that “no article of the agreement is unconditional.” Ghani’s statement did not provide any details on how the agreement would reduce violence and it omitted any mention of a “cease fire,” once a key precondition to talks demanded by his government.
“The reality and the principle point are that they [the Taliban] agreed to stop fighting and violence, and acknowledge a pluralist society,” Ghani was told by top U.S. officials, according to the statement released by his office.
In comments earlier this week, Esper said the deal would also cover U.S. airstrikes and other activities. Esper also attended the Munich meeting, along with the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Austin S. Miller, and Zalmay Khalilzad, the Trump administration’s chief negotiator with the Taliban.
Under the September agreement, the Taliban “agreed to break with terrorism in the areas they control — no hosting nor presence, no training, no recruitment or fundraising,” said the senior official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity under government ground rules.
Miller has said that U.S. officials can continue their current missions of training and supporting Afghan security forces, along with counterterrorism operations against the Islamic State, al-Qaeda and other groups, with about two-thirds of the current American force of 12,000 to 13,000. Several thousand foreign troops from NATO allies and partner countries are also in Afghanistan.
An initial withdrawal, once the longer-term agreement is signed, would bring the U.S. number down to 8,600. Further reductions, U.S. officials have said, would be “conditions-based,” with a specific timetable and numbers that depend on Taliban compliance with other terms of the agreement and progress in the inter-Afghan talks. The United States hopes to keep a reduced counterterrorism force in Afghanistan.
“What is important is whether there are conditions in Afghanistan that necessitate a presence … and that depends on whether the Taliban deliver,” the official said. “We don’t want Afghanistan to ever become a platform that threatens the United States or its allies.”
But “we’re not looking to be there just to be there,” the official said.
The seven-day violence reduction clock “hasn’t started yet” but will be activated “really soon,” the official said. Others have said it could begin within days.
U.S., Afghan and Taliban forces will all monitor the level of violence and “raise issues when they arise,” the official said. “We obviously have a lot of means for monitoring the situation inside Afghanistan.”
Even as negotiations with the Taliban have continued, the Islamic State has expanded its presence in Afghanistan, U.S. military officials have said. Part of the still-unsigned U.S.-Taliban agreement calls for the insurgents — who often compete and clash with Islamic State fighters — to break ties with all terrorist groups.
One concern is that Taliban fighters who refuse to stop fighting will leave the group and join the Islamic State or another terrorist group. Miller, the U.S. commander, will make a final determination of what constitutes a violation of the seven-day or the long-term agreement, the official said.
Afghan politics are particularly unsettled after September’s presidential election, and Ghani’s declared win is still being challenged. The government has yet to finalize its own negotiating team.
Susannah George from Islamabad, Pakistan and Sharif Hassan from Kabul contributed to this report. Hudson reported from Munich.