US to pull troops from 5 Afghan bases in 135 days after Taliban deal passes

  • 2 Sep 2019

Zalmay Khalilzad, who is leading efforts to forge a deal with the Taliban, made the announcement after meeting Afghanistan's President Ghani who asked the US envoy to share the draft agreement between the US and Taliban with all Afghan leaders.

President Ashraf Ghani meets with US special representative for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad in Kabul, Afghanistan. September 2, 2019. ( Reuters )

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on Monday told the US envoy for Afghanistan to share details of a draft deal between the US and Taliban with all Afghan leaders, the president's spokesman said.

The US special representative for Afghanistan showed Ghani the draft of an agreement between the US and Taliban expected to clear the way for a phased US troop withdrawal, officials said.

The US military will pull its troops from five bases in Afghanistan if the Taliban honour their end of a proposed deal, Zalmay Khalilzad, who is leading negotiations between the two foes, said on Monday.

"We have agreed that if the conditions proceed according to the agreement, we will leave within 135 days five bases in which we are present now," Zalmay Khalilzad told Tolo News, according to an excerpt of an interview the TV station published on Twitter.

Khalilzad was speaking in Dari. Tolo said the full interview would be broadcast later Monday.

Khalilzad, the Afghan-born US diplomat who has completed nine rounds of talks with Taliban representatives, is meeting Afghan leaders in Kabul this week to build a consensus before the deal is signed.

The government will need to "study and assess" details of the draft deal, Ghani's spokesman Sediq Sediqqi told reporters.

Khalilzad has met with Ghani twice in the last two days, he said. 

The agreement is expected to include a staggered withdrawal of US forces from their longest-ever war in exchange for a Taliban commitment that they will not allow Afghanistan to be used by militants to plot attacks on the US and its allies.

Ghani's government has been shut out of the talks as the militants refuse to recognise it, dismissing it as a US puppet.

But as part of the deal, the Taliban are expected to make a commitment to open power-sharing talks with the US-backed government and work towards a ceasefire.

Ghani will consider the draft and share his views on it with Khalilzad within two days, sources with knowledge of the negotiations told Reuters.

'We are at the threshold of an agreement'

Khalilzad said on the weekend final agreement was close.

"We are at the threshold of an agreement that will reduce violence and open the door for Afghans to sit together to negotiate an honourable and sustainable peace and a unified, sovereign Afghanistan that does not threaten the US, its allies, or any other country," he said in a Twitter post.

The talks have progressed against a backdrop of relentless violence.

The Taliban attacked northern Afghanistan over the weekend, killing members of the Afghan security forces and civilians.

Air strikes conducted by Afghan forces in response have led to civilian casualties. Dozens of militants have also been killed, Afghan officials said.

The United States has some 14,000 troops in Afghanistan.

Over 100 Taliban killed in northern Afghanistan - govt

Afghan security forces have killed more than 100 Taliban militants in the country's northern province of Baghlan, an official confirmed on Monday.

Ongoing clashes have blocked the main highway leading to the capital Kabul as Taliban militants are on the run from Puli Khumri city, said Feroz Bashari, director of the government media and information centre, in a series of tweets.

"102 Taliban fighters have been killed, 59 wounded and 27 held captive during ANDSF air raids and ground ops. 8 civilians have been martyred and 20 wounded. Puli Khumri city is clear now. The enemies are on the run. Enough forces on the ground," he added.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid made similar claims of killing scores of security forces here.

Taliban and Afghan forces have engaged in fresh clashes amid ongoing talks and ahead of next month's presidential elections, which the insurgents oppose.

Earlier this week, at least 81 people were killed as the Afghan army repulsed a Taliban attack in Baghlan's neighbouring Kunduz city.

US presence

The United States invaded Afghanistan in 2001 and ousted its Taliban leaders after they refused to hand over members of the Al Qaeda terror group behind the September 11 attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

US President Donald Trump has long called for an end to US involvement in Afghanistan, writing on Twitter seven years ago that the war was "a complete waste" and six years ago that "we should leave Afghanistan immediately."

Since becoming president in January 2017, he has repeatedly said he could end the Afghanistan war quickly if he didn't mind killing millions of people, a claim he repeated in the interview with Fox News radio.

But there are concerns among Afghan officials and US national security aides about a US withdrawal, with fears Afghanistan could be plunged into a new civil war that could herald a return of Taliban rule and allow international militants, including Daesh, to find a refuge.