Taliban could sign peace deal in February if Taliban reduces violence

National army soldiers stand guard at the site of suicide attack near the military academy in Kabul, Afghanistan, Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2020. A suicide bomber targeting a military academy in the Afghan capital on Tuesday killed at least six people, including two civilians and four military personnel, the Interior Ministry said. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)

KABUL/DUBAI: A U.S.-Taliban peace deal could be signed this month if the Taliban significantly reduces violence, and that deal could lead to the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, two Afghan government sources and a Western diplomat said on Wednesday.

The timeline shared by sources came a day after Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said there has been a possible breakthrough in U.S.-Taliban talks in Qatar.

The talks had been deadlocked in part over a U.S. demand that the insurgents agree to sharply reduce violence as part of any American troop withdrawal accord.

Taliban spokesmen were not immediately available for a comment.

A western diplomat in Kabul said the U.S. negotiators were working on idea that the Taliban should agree on a reduction in violence (RIV) for at least 10 days with no major violation.

The prospective deal, he said, would call for a ceasefire period between the Afghan and U.S. coalition and the Taliban, with hopes of a peace deal being reached in the near future.

"It is after those 10 days of RIV that both sides can hold talks and firm up plans to hold intra-Afghan dialogue," said the source on condition of anonymity.

There are currently about 13,000 U.S. forces as well as thousands of other NATO troops in Afghanistan, 18 years after a U.S.-led coalition invaded the country following the Sept. 11, 2001, al Qaeda attacks on the United States.

The news of a potential agreement to decrease violence comes amid continued attacks in the country.

Last month, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction assessed that there had been a record-high number of attacks carried out by the Taliban and other anti-government forces during the last three months of 2019.

Senior Taliban commanders on condition of anonymity said the Taliban leaders were still adamant to observe a ceasefire without making it public, referring to the Taliban's refusal to publicly declare RIV until the U.S. signed a written agreement.

"We will stop all attacks in return for U.S. commitment to cease all their operations against us in Afghanistan," said a Taliban commander.





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