The Afghan Taliban have announced that they hope to sign a withdrawal agreement with the U.S. by the end of the month, with a spokesman telling a Pakistani daily that the insurgents are ready to reduce military operations ahead of it.
English-language daily Dawn on Saturday published a statement from Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen in which the militant said that the group was “optimistic” about a deal with Washington. The proposed reduction in conflict across restive Afghanistan would include fewer attacks on Afghan forces, he added. “We have agreed to scale down military operations in days leading up to the signing of the peace agreement with the United States,” Shaheen told Dawn.
The statement comes as the group and the U.S. held discussions in Doha this week to reach a final agreement on America’s troop deployment in Afghanistan. “It’s now a matter of days,” the spokesman said of the timeline to sign the agreement. “The purpose [of scaling down] is to provide safe environment to foreign forces to withdraw from Afghanistan,” he told Dawn, adding “there is no agreement on ceasefire.”
According to Shaheen, the insurgents would decide “how, when and where to scale down our military operations.”
Washington has been calling on the militants to reduce violence, citing it as a precondition for resuming formal negotiations on an agreement that would see U.S. troops begin to leave the country in return for security guarantees.
The agreement was reportedly on the brink of being signed when U.S. President Donald Trump in September 2019 declared the process “dead” over the killing of a U.S. soldier in Afghanistan. Talks resumed in December, but were paused again following an attack near the U.S. military base in Bagram.
Any agreement, say observers, would require an American withdrawal from Afghanistan, and a commitment by the Taliban not to offer sanctuary to militants. A major sticking point that remains is whether the insurgents are willing to sit down with the U.S.-backed government in Kabul.
The Taliban consider the Kabul government “illegitimate,” and the Afghan Presidential Palace has said it is unaware of any possible deal between the U.S. and the insurgents.