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Pentagon chief says US, Taliban seal seven-day plan for decline in violence

U.S. Secretary of Defense Dr. Mark T. Esper speaks to the press during a press conference at the Pentagon Briefing Room in Washington, D.C., Jan. 7, 2020. (DoD photo by U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Nicole Mejia)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

The United States and the Taliban have negotiated a “proposal” for a week-long scaling-down in violence, U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper has told journalists in Brussels.

Esper said on February 13 a drawdown of troops and further negotiations with the militants would be “conditions-based” and begin after a decline in violence.

“The United States and the Taliban have negotiated a proposal for a seven-day reduction in violence,” Esper said.

“We’ve said all along that the best…solution in Afghanistan is a political agreement,” he added. “It will be a continual evaluative process as we go forward — if we go forward.”

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Progress toward reducing violence could usher in direct peace talks between the militants and the Afghan government to end the nearly two-decade war.

AP reported that if violence subsided, it would lead to an agreement being signed between the United States and the Taliban, followed by, within 10 days, all-Afghan negotiations to establish a road map for the political future of a postwar Afghanistan.

There has been a “pretty important breakthrough” over the past few days, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on February 13 about peace negotiations. He did not elaborate.

President Donald Trump would still have to formally approve the agreement and finalization of details is expected at this week’s Munich Security Conference, where Esper and Pompeo will meet with Afghan President Ashaf Ghani.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg the day before reiterated that the alliance “fully supports the U.S.-led peace efforts, which can pave the way for intra-Afghan talks.”

Speaking at the same NATO summit in Brussels attended by Esper, the secretary-general said the militants “need to demonstrate that they are both willing and capable to deliver a reduction of violence and contribute to peace in good faith.”

He said the militant fighters have to “understand that they will never win on the battlefield. They have to make real compromises around the negotiating table.”

The prospective deal would see the U.S. pull thousands of troops from Afghanistan, while the Taliban would provide security guarantees and launch eventual talks with the Western-backed government in Kabul.

There are some 12,500 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, as well as thousands of European forces participating in the NATO-led Resolute Support mission.