In a historic deal signed with the Taliban on Saturday in Doha, the United States promised to bring its troops home from Afghanistan in 14 months, with the first reduction, down to 8,600 from 13,000, to take place in the first 135 days.
Full withdrawal will depend on the Taliban sticking to their end of the bargain — making sure they prevent anyone in areas under their control, including al-Qaida, from posing a threat to the U.S. or its allies, and successfully negotiating with other Afghans on the future road map of the country.
“We will closely watch the Taliban’s compliance with their commitments and calibrate the pace of our withdrawal to their actions,” U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in his statement at the deal-signing ceremony.
The agreement also details some of the steps required to start the intra-Afghan negotiations.
“The United States is committed to start immediately to work with all relevant sides on a plan to expeditiously release combat and political prisoners as a confidence-building measure with the coordination and approval of all relevant sides,” the text of the deal reads.
Up to 5,000 Taliban prisoners and up to 1,000 Afghan security forces members will be released by March 10, the first scheduled day of intra-Afghan negotiations.
Afghans' fate in Afghans' hands
While the U.S. would facilitate negotiations between the two sides, Pompeo emphasized that his country would let Afghans decide their own fate.
“When it comes down to it, the future of Afghanistan is for the Afghans to determine. The U.S.-Taliban deal creates the conditions for Afghans to do just that," he said.
The head of the Taliban delegation, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, who signed the agreement on behalf of the insurgent group, said negotiations should be based on Islamic values.
“I call on all Afghan sides to come to the table of negotiations with honesty to form an independent and strong Islamic system, thus we may all gather around Islamic values and national interest,” he said in his statement.
Once the intra-Afghan negotiations start, the U.S. would also review sanctions against members of the Taliban “with the goal of removing these sanctions by August 27, 2020.”
The Saturday ceremony was attended by representatives of 19 countries and four international organizations.
A statement issued by the White House said the deal fulfilled one of President Donald Trump’s campaign promises.
“President Trump promised to bring our troops home from overseas and is following through on that promise,” it said.
Trump later spoke to reporters to thank U.S. allies for approving his Afghan peace plan, saying he believed the Taliban would deliver on their commitments. He warned that U.S. troops would go back if “bad things happen," though Trump appeared confident it would not be necessary.
“I will be meeting personally with the Taliban leaders in the not too distant future and we will be very much hoping that they will be doing what they say they are going to be doing; they will be killing terrorists, they will keep that fighting going,” the U.S. president said.
A message from Taliban leader Hibatullah Akhundzada categorized the agreement as a victory.
“This victory is a collective victory of the entire Muslim and Mujahid nation,” he said in a written statement, adding that “the accord about the complete withdrawal of all foreign forces from Afghanistan and never intervening in its affairs in the future is undoubtedly a great achievement.”
Taliban spokesman Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanekzai said that after the United States withdraws its forces, the Taliban would like it to return and participate in Afghanistan’s rehabilitation.
The signing was preceded by a week of reduction in violence in which all sides — the Taliban, the U.S., NATO forces in Afghanistan and the Afghan government — agreed not to initiate an attack.
The war, which has lasted 19 years, has cost more than 100,000 lives and more than $1 trillion.