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Esper: US, Taliban near seven-day 'reduction in violence' deal

13 Feb 2020 TheHill

The United States and the Taliban have negotiated a deal for a seven-day “reduction in violence” in Afghanistan, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Thursday.

Speaking to reporters at the conclusion of a NATO meeting in Brussels, Esper said the United States is now consulting with its allies about the deal.

“The United States and the Taliban have negotiated a proposal for a seven-day reduction in violence,” Esper said. “We’ve said all along that the best, if not the only, solution in Afghanistan is a political agreement. Progress has been made on this front, and we’ll have more to report on that soon, I hope.”

Esper’s comments come after several reports this week that President Trump gave conditional approval for a peace deal with the Taliban, pending its ability to follow through on an initial reduction in violence agreement.

Citing the ongoing consultation with allies, Esper would not elaborate on the details of the reduction in violence agreement, including whether U.S. troops would continue conducting counterterrorism operations against ISIS and al Qaeda.

Esper did say the United States views the week-long period on the table as long enough to judge the Taliban’s seriousness.

“It is our view that seven days, for now, is sufficient, but in all things, our approach to this process will be conditions-based,” Esper said. “So it will be a continual evaluative process as we go forward if we go forward.”

The United States has about 14,000 troops in Afghanistan on a dual mission. One is to train, advise and assist Afghan forces in their fight against the Taliban, while the other is to conduct counterterrorism operations against groups such as al Qaeda and ISIS.

Trump, who often rails against so-called endless wars, has been working to end America’s longest war, with an eye toward notching the win ahead of the 2020 presidential election.

The United States and the Taliban were close to a deal last year, but Trump called off a planned meeting at Camp David to finalize the agreement after a Taliban attack killed a U.S. service member. The planned meeting was also widely criticized for honoring the Taliban with a Camp David invite days before the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks that precipitated that Afghanistan War.

After he canceled the Camp David meeting, Trump declared talks with the Taliban “dead,” but negotiations resumed a couple of months later.

Original Link: https://thehill.com/policy/defense/482922-esper-us-taliban-near-seven-day-reduction-in-violence-deal

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