US signs peace deal with Afghanistan's Taliban
The United States signed a peace agreement with Taliban militants on Saturday aimed at bringing an end to 18 years of bloodshed in Afghanistan and allowing US troops to return home from America's longest war.
Under the agreement, the US would draw its forces down to 8,600 from 13,000 in the next 3-4 months, with the remaining US forces withdrawing in 14 months. The complete pullout, however, would depend on the Taliban meeting their commitments to prevent terrorism.
The deal carries with it hopes of a fall in violence in Afghanistan after decades of conflict and the opening of peace talks with the Afghan government, which was excluded from the direct US-Taliban negotiations.
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The latest development followed a period of "reduction in violence" which saw the US, Taliban and Afghan security forces agree to a crucial truce last week.
The United States has been in talks with the Taliban for more than a year to secure a deal in which it would pull out thousands of troops in return for Taliban security guarantees and a promise to hold peace talks with the government in Kabul.
Stoltenberg is expected to participate in a Kabul media conference with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and US Defence Secretary Mark Esper later on Saturday, the NATO statement said.
Since the US invasion in 2001 there has only been one other pause in the fighting - a surprise three-day ceasefire between the Taliban and Kabul marking the religious festival of Eid in 2018.
The United States and the Taliban have been tantalisingly close to a deal before, only to see President Donald Trump nix it at the eleventh hour in September.
The attempt to stem Afghanistan's bloodshed is laced with complications, including the fear that competing forces could exploit a lull to secure a battlefield advantage.
Since the US-led invasion after the September 11, 2001 attacks, America has spent more than $1 trillion in fighting and rebuilding in Afghanistan.
About 2,400 US soldiers have been killed, along with unknown tens of thousands of Afghan troops, Taliban fighters and Afghan civilians.
The UN said last year that more than 100,000 people have been killed or wounded in Afghanistan in the last decade.