In a historic signing ceremony with the top U.S. diplomat and the Taliban’s co-founder, the U.S. and the militant group agreed to begin to end America’s longest war.
The deal will commit the U.S. to begin withdrawing its troops from Afghanistan, in exchange for the Taliban sitting down to peace negotiations with other Afghans and severing ties with terror groups like al-Qaida — which the Taliban harbored ahead of the Sept. 11 attacks, prompting a U.S. invasion and over 18 years of war.
While many of the steps in the deal are conditioned on actions from both sides, there are some immediate impacts as the ink dries in Doha, Qatar, where chief U.S. negotiator Zalmay Khalilzad, his deputy Molly Phee and their team have spent over a year and a half negotiating with the Taliban’s representatives.
The text of the agreement was released Saturday, although there are annexes that will not be made public, according to two senior U.S. administration officials, who said they do not include any U.S. commitments, only enforcement mechanisms.
A weeklong deal to reduce violence will continue, the officials said, as the U.S. immediately draws down its approximately 13,000 troops in Afghanistan to 8,600 and closes five military bases within 135 days. U.S. officials, including Gen. Scott Miller, commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, have said that new number is still sufficient to carry out their mission.
There will also be an immediate release of prisoners, with the U.S. committing to facilitate the release of as many as 5,000 Taliban fighters held by the government and up to 1,000 people from “the other side” held by the militant group, all before March 10. Three months after that, all remaining prisoners are supposed to be released, with Taliban fighters committing to abide by the new agreement.
Any withdrawal of U.S. forces beyond 8,600, however, is contingent on the Taliban meeting its commitments, according to the deal, but it sets out a timeline for a full U.S. and NATO withdrawal within 14 months. That includes not just U.S. service members, but any contractors, trainers and non-diplomatic civilian personnel.
It is “an aspirational timeline for withdrawal that is entirely conditions-based, and it will depend on their performance as we judge their performance,” a senior administration official said of the Taliban.
Explicitly, withdrawal is tied to the Taliban meeting its counterterrorism commitments, where the group agrees “to prevent any group or individual, including al-Qaida, from using the soil of Afghanistan to threaten the security of the United States and its allies.” That means not giving them safe haven on Afghan soil, legal status like asylum or documentation such as visas or passports.
While the deal outlines that the Taliban must “instruct” its members “not to cooperate” with groups like al-Qaida that threaten the U.S., the Taliban do not outright repudiate al-Qaida in the agreement.
“People are concerned about the historic relationship between the Taliban and al-Qaida. We think this is a decisive and historic first step in terms of their public acknowledgement that they are breaking ties with al-Qaida,” the senior administration official told ABC News.
There will be verification mechanisms in place to ensure that happens, the official added, including “our military and other asset presence on the ground,” but those aren’t detailed in the agreement that was released.
Instead, the U.S. commits to removing sanctions on and rescinding rewards for the capture of Taliban leaders by August 27 — and to lobbying at the United Nations Security Council to remove U.N. sanctions by May 29.
You can read the rest of Conor Finnegan’s article at ABCnews.com