US and Taliban sign 'momentous' peace agreement

29 February 2020, 13:27 | Updated: 29 February 2020, 13:57

U.S. peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, left, and Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban group's top political leader
U.S. peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, left, and Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban group's top political leader. Picture: PA

A permanent ceasefire has been sealed between the US and the Taliban, in which the US has agreed to withdraw all troops from Afghanistan.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with 31 Taliban delegates in Doha, Qatar, on what he called a "historic day".

The US and its Nato allies have agreed to withdraw all troops from Afghanistan in a step towards peace in the country, following 18 years of conflict.

If the Taliban upholds its side of the deal, troops should leave within 14 months.

The agreement also means that militants in Afghanistan cannot allow al-Qaeda or any other extremist group to operate in the areas they control.

About 12,000 US troops are currently stationed in the country, and more than 2,400 have been killed since the US invaded in the weeks following the September 2001 attacks.

American troop levels will drop to 8,600 in the four to five months following Saturday's signing.

Mr Pompeo said: "The United States and the Taliban have endured decades of hostility and mistrust.

"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."

Afghanistan's Taliban delegation
Afghanistan's Taliban delegation. Picture: PA

Speaking at a second ceremony in Kabul, Afghanistan's president Ashraf Ghani said: "All the people of Afghanistan are looking forward to a permanent peace.

"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."

"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."

"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."

Welcoming the deal, the Foreign Office in London said: "Thanks to the efforts of UK and coalition forces, Afghanistan is no longer a safe haven for international terrorists and Britain's streets are safer.

"But all sides recognise that only a political solution can ensure stability and build a lasting peace in Afghanistan."

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said: "These agreements mark a significant moment in the pursuit of peace in Afghanistan.

"The current reduction in violence is welcome and I hope it will be maintained, but meaningful negotiations between the Afghan leadership and the Taliban are the real prize and I hope this opportunity will be seized.

"The only way to achieve lasting peace in Afghanistan is through a political solution."