U.S. and Taliban Agree to Reduce Violence, in First Step Toward Cease-Fire

The United States and the Taliban have agreed to a significant reduction in violence for seven days, a senior Trump administration official said on Friday, the first step in a plan to withdraw American troops from Afghanistan and possibly end the long war there.

A successful reduction in hostilities, though short of a blanket cease-fire, is seen as a precursor to signing a formal agreement. The senior official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, briefed reporters in Munich, Germany, after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met there with Ashraf Ghani, the president of Afghanistan.

The official said the seven-day period had not begun, and did not specify when it would start.

All sides are keenly aware that there will be multiple chances for the deal to break down, but it is the closest they have come to President Trump’s goals of withdrawing many of the American troops in Afghanistan and ending the United States’ longest war, which has lasted more than 18 years.

Mr. Trump recently gave his approval to a deal that would end the war, on the condition that before it is signed, there must be a major reduction in violence for seven days. That is seen as a test not only of good intentions, but also of the ability of the Taliban and the Afghan government to rein in their forces and those of their allies, in a war made more complex by internal rivalries and local disputes.

The deal would lay out a 135-day timetable for drawing down American troop strength in Afghanistan from about 13,000 to 8,600; United States officials had indicated that they planned to make the reduction with or without an agreement in place. It calls for a complete withdrawal within three to five years.

It also calls for the start of negotiations between the government in Kabul and the Taliban — something the Taliban has long refused — on a long-term power-sharing settlement. Afghan leaders have been frustrated by the United States’ acceding to the Taliban’s demand that negotiations, held over the past year in Doha, Qatar, exclude the government, even as deadly violence continued.

In September, American and Taliban negotiators were close to an agreement, and Mr. Trump planned to meet Taliban leaders in person, before he dropped the deal after a Taliban attack.

A weeklong decline in hostilities would be an abrupt shift, coming off one of the most violent years in the long conflict. In 2019, the civilian death rate averaged almost seven per day, the United States dropped more than 7,000 bombs and missiles, and the Taliban and smaller armed insurgent groups carried out about 25,000 attacks.

During the seven-day period, the Taliban has agreed not to attack population centers, highways and government facilities, but it would not agree to a complete cease-fire.

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