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US ready to consider agreement with Taliban: Defence Sec Esper

PTI

Washington

The US is ready to consider an agreement with the Taliban after they have agreed to dramatically reduce violence across the war-torn Afghanistan, US Defence Secretary Mark Esper told lawmakers on Wednesday.

 The US plans to sign an agreement with the Taliban on Saturday in Qatar.

The historic deal would see the US withdraw thousands of troops, winding down America’s longest war which was launched after the September 11, 2001 attacks but has grown increasingly unpopular at home.

“If the Taliban demonstrate the willingness and capability to do so, the US is prepared to consider an agreement that advances the peace process,” Esper told members of the House Armed Services Committee ahead of a hearing on defence posture statement.

“Should, intra-Afghan peace dialogues progress, the US will reduce our force posture as appropriate, based on conditions on the ground,” Esper said.

In Afghanistan, he said, the US remain committed to ending the war through a political agreement that ensures Afghanistan cannot be used as a safe haven for terrorist groups to attack the United States.

“As we have previously notified members of Congress, our negotiations with the Taliban have advanced, and they have agreed to dramatically reduce violence across the country,” he said.

On Saturday, the US and the Afghan Taliban started a seven-day partial truce ahead of a possible peace deal to end more than 18-year-long war, raising hopes for a resolution to America’s longest war.

The agreement struck during negotiations between the US and the Taliban, if maintained, may secure a peace deal that would lead to a withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan.

In November, US President Donald Trump announced the resumption of peace talks with the Taliban, but refused to give a timeline for the drawdown of the US troops from Afghanistan, as he made an unannounced visit to American soldiers stationed in the war-torn country.

After nine rounds of negotiations with the Taliban, Trump announced in September that he was calling the peace talks off after a US service member was killed in a suicide attack in Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul.

The US currently has less than 14,000 troops in Afghanistan, but military officials would not confirm the exact number.

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