Tal­iban ap­prove cease-fire

10-day deal opens win­dow for peace agree­ment with US

Orlando Sentinel - - FRONT PAGE - By Kathy Gan­non and Rahim Faiez

KABUL, Afghanista­n — The Tal­iban’s rul­ing coun­cil agreed Sun­day to a tem­po­rary cease-fire in Afghanista­n, pro­vid­ing a win­dow in which a peace agree­ment with the United States can be signed, of­fi­cials from the in­sur­gent group said. They didn’t say when it would be­gin.

A cease-fire had been de­manded by Wash­ing­ton be­fore any peace agree­ment could be signed. A peace deal would al­low the U.S. to bring home its troops from Afghanista­n and end its 18-year mil­i­tary en­gage­ment there, Amer­ica’s long­est.

There was no im­me­di­ate re­sponse from Wash­ing­ton.

The U.S. wants any deal to in­clude a prom­ise from the Tal­iban that Afghanista­n would not be used as a base by ter­ror­ist groups. The U.S. cur­rently has an es­ti­mated 12,000 troops in Afghanista­n.

The Tal­iban chief must ap­prove the cease-fire de­ci­sion, but that was ex­pected. The du­ra­tion of the cease-fire was not spec­i­fied but it was sug­gested it would last for 10 days. It was also not spec­i­fied when the cease-fire would be­gin.

Four mem­bers of the Tal­iban ne­go­ti­at­ing team met for a week with the rul­ing coun­cil be­fore they agreed on the brief cease-fire. The ne­go­ti­at­ing team re­turned Sun­day to Qatar where the Tal­iban main

tain their po­lit­i­cal of­fice and where U.S. spe­cial peace en­voy Zal­may Khalilzad has been hold­ing peace talks with the re­li­gious mili­tia since Septem­ber 2018.

Talks were sus­pended in Septem­ber when both sides seemed on the verge of sign­ing a peace pact. How­ever, a surge in vi­o­lence in the cap­i­tal Kabul killed a U.S. sol­dier, prompt­ing Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump to de­clare the deal “dead.” Talks re­sumed after Trump made a sur­prise visit to Afghanista­n at the end of Novem­ber an­nounc­ing the Tal­iban were ready to talk and agree to a re­duc­tion in vi­o­lence.

Khalilzad re­turned to Doha at the be­gin­ning of December. It was then that he pro­posed a tem­po­rary halt to hos­til­i­ties to pave the way to an agree­ment be­ing signed, ac­cord­ing to Tal­iban of­fi­cials.

Tal­iban of­fi­cials fa­mil­iar with the ne­go­ti­a­tions spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity be­cause they were not au­tho­rized to speak to media out­lets.

A key pil­lar of the agree­ment, which the U.S. and Tal­iban have been ham­mer­ing out for more than a year, is di­rect ne­go­ti­a­tions be­tween Afghans on both sides of the con­flict.

Those in­tra-Afghan talks were ex­pected to be held within two weeks of the sign­ing of a U.S.-Tal­iban peace deal. They will de­cide what a post­war Afghanista­n will look like.

The first item on the agenda is ex­pected to ad­dress how to im­ple­ment a cease-fire be­tween the Tal­iban and Afghanista­n’s Na­tional Se­cu­rity Forces. The ne­go­ti­a­tions, how­ever, were ex­pected to be prickly and will cover a va­ri­ety of thorny is­sues, in­clud­ing rights of women, free speech, and changes to the coun­try’s con­sti­tu­tion.

The in­tra-Afghan talks would also lay out the fate of tens of thou­sands of Tal­iban fight­ers and the heav­ily armed mili­tias be­long­ing to Afghanista­n’s war­lords. Those war­lords have amassed wealth and power since the Tal­iban were

ousted from power in 2001 by the U.S.-led coali­tion. They were re­moved after Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida car­ried out the 9⁄11 ter­ror­ist at­tacks on the United States. The Tal­iban had har­bored bin Laden, although there was no in­di­ca­tion they were aware of al-Qaida’s plans to at­tack the United States.

Even as the Tal­iban were talk­ing about ceas­ing hos­til­i­ties, in­sur­gents car­ried out an at­tack in north­ern Afghanista­n on Sun­day that killed at least 17 lo­cal mili­ti­a­men.

The at­tack ap­par­ently tar­geted a lo­cal mili­tia com­man­der who es­caped un­harmed, said Jawad Ha­jri, a spokesman for the gover­nor of Takhar province, where the at­tack took place late Satur­day.

Lo­cal Afghan mili­tias com­monly op­er­ate in re­mote ar­eas, and are un­der the com­mand of ei­ther the de­fense or in­te­rior min­istries.

Tal­iban spokesman Zabi­ul­lah Mu­jahid claimed re­spon­si­bil­ity for the at­tack.

Last week, a U.S. sol­dier was killed in com­bat in the north­ern Kun­duz province. The Tal­iban claimed they were be­hind a fa­tal road­side bomb­ing that tar­geted Amer­i­can and Afghan forces in Kun­duz. The U.S. mil­i­tary said the sol­dier was not killed in an IED at­tack but died seiz­ing a Tal­iban weapon’s cache.

In its daily re­port of ac­tiv­ity, the U.S. mil­i­tary said airstrikes overnight Sun­day killed 13 Tal­iban in at­tacks through­out the coun­try.

Tal­iban as well as Afghan Na­tional Se­cu­rity Forces aided by U.S. air power have car­ried out daily at­tacks against each other.

The Tal­iban fre­quently tar­get Afghan and U.S. forces, as well as gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials. But scores of Afghan civil­ians are also killed in the cross­fire or by road­side bombs planted by mil­i­tants. The United Na­tions has called on all sides in the con­flict to re­duce civil­ian ca­su­al­ties. The world body said in­creased U.S. airstrikes and ground op­er­a­tions by Afghan Na­tional Se­cu­rity Forces, as well as re­lent­less Tal­iban at­tacks, have con­trib­uted to an in­crease in civil­ian ca­su­al­ties.

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