A peace deal between the United States and its once sworn enemy the Taliban has been sealed at twin ceremonies, in which the US has agreed to withdraw all of its troops from Afghanistan.
US secretary of state Mike Pompeo met a 31-strong Taliban delegation during a historic moment where they shared a stage in Qatar’s capital Doha, after 18 years of fighting.
Mr Pompeo, who called it “a momentous day”, gave a list of pointers to the Taliban to follow to ensure success.
“The United States and the Taliban have endured decades of hostility and mistrust,” he said.
“Previous talks have faltered. This effort only became real for the United States when the Taliban signalled interest in pursuing peace and ending their relationship with al Qaeda and other foreign terrorist groups.
“They also recognise that military victory was impossible.”
The deal – signed by US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad and Taliban political chief Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar – agrees the complete withdrawal of US and NATO troops within 14 months.
In a statement at the White House, US president Donald Trump said he believes the Afghan peace talks will “be successful in the end”.
He added that he will meet Taliban leaders face-to-face but insisted it was “time to bring our people home”.
The US has also agreed to refrain from the use of force against Afghanistan or intervening in its domestic affairs.
It has also committed to seeking annual funds to train, advise and equip Afghan security forces.
Included in the deal:
- Complete withdrawal of US and NATO troops from Afghanistan in 14 months
- Afghan govt to engage with United Nations Security Council to remove Taliban members from sanctions list by 29 May
- US to reduce troops in Afghanistan down to 8,600 from 13,000 in the next three to four months, with the remainder withdrawing in 14 months – contingent on the Taliban’s fulfilment of its commitments
- US to refrain from use of force against territorial integrity of Afghanistan
- US will not intervene in Afghanistan’s domestic affairs
- US commits to seek annual funds to train, advice, equip Afghan security forces
Mr Pompeo said the US would “closely watch” the Taliban’s compliance with the agreement and the pace of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan would take place according to “their actions”.
“This is how we will ensure that Afghanistan never again serves as a base for international terrorists,” he said.
“The negotiation process in Doha, with all of its twists and turns, has shown it is possible for us to take this step together.”
He said the level of violence in the country over the last seven days had reached its lowest level in the last four years – and the US and Afghan forces “responded to the reduced enemy attacks by also respecting peace”.
“It was not perfect, but the Taliban demonstrated that even for a week if they have the will to be peaceful, they can be,” he said.
He said the Afghan people were “rejoicing” and “even dancing in the streets”, but warned the agreement “will mean nothing if we don’t take concrete actions on the promises that have been made”.
Speaking at a parallel ceremony in Kabul, Afghanistan’s president Ashraf Ghani said: “All the people of Afghanistan are looking forward to a permanent peace.”
He said that “today can be the moment of overcoming the past” and called for a moment of silence “in honour of our mutual fallen heroes”.
He went on: “The tragedy of 9/11 brought us together. Mutual sacrifice created human bonds between us. Mutual interest, your security and our freedom, sustains our relationship in mutual respect, which has made us partners.”
Calling the relationship “transparent” he said: “NATO and US partners have spared neither blood nor treasure for attaining the goals of the partnership.
“We ask you to thank the veterans, especially the gold star families, for their service.
“Our sacrifice has been immense… children, youth in their prime, and men and women in all ages in all walks of life, whose lives have been taken away by senseless acts of violence in terror and public spaces.”
He added: “We have the political will and the capacity to make peace because of the resilience of our society, the dynamism of our economy and the capability of our state.”
President George W Bush ordered the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in response to the September 11 attacks in 2001.
Within months, the Taliban were defeated and Osama bin Laden and top al Qaeda militants fled across the border into Pakistan.
But the war – which has cost all sides tens of thousands of lives – dragged on for years as the US tried to establish a stable, functioning state in one of the least developed countries in the world.
The Taliban regrouped and currently hold sway over half the country.
US President Donald Trump has repeatedly promised to get the US out of its “endless wars” in the Middle East – and the peace deal comes as he seeks re-election.
US has done a ‘deal with the devil’
British Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said: “I welcome this small but important step towards the chance for Afghans to live in peace, free from terrorism.
“We should never forget that much of this has been achieved through sacrifices made by the brave men and women of the UK armed forces.
“I know how proud they are to have played their part, and the depth of the bonds that many of them have forged with the people of Afghanistan during their many tours over the last 18 years.
“Thanks to vital training from UK and NATO partners, we have seen a steady transformation of the Afghan security forces over the last 18 years.
“We remain absolutely committed to building an Afghanistan that is a strong partner for decades to come. A secure and stable Afghanistan, that does not again become a haven for terrorism, helps keep Britain’s streets safe.”