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US-Taliban Deal Likely to Include Means to Lessen Risk of Clashes

By Carla Babb February 20, 2020

A deal between the United States and the Taliban to de-escalate the war in Afghanistan will likely include a communication mechanism to prevent military miscalculations during that time period, a U.S. official tells VOA.

The communication mechanism would serve the same purpose as one set up between U.S. and Russian forces in Syria to avoid unsafe military incidents between Washington and its partner forces on one side, and Russian and Syrian government forces on the other.

Multiple officials tell VOA the start date for a "reduction in violence" agreement between the U.S. and the Afghan Taliban is planned for Saturday. A senior U.S. defense official said the U.S. military would maintain its authority for self-defense and would continue U.S. counterterrorism operations and the training and advising of Afghan forces during this agreement period.

If the deal holds, Taliban sources have said a signing ceremony would take place in Doha, Qatar, on Feb. 29. Foreign ministers from all of Afghan's neighboring countries, Islamic countries, Russia and the European Union would be invited to attend the signing ceremony in Doha, according to Taliban officials.

U.S. officials say successful implementation of the temporary reduction in violence agreement would pave the way for a comprehensive peace deal that could end America's longest war and bring some of the U.S. troops in Afghanistan home. Inter-Afghan dialogue between the Afghan government and the Taliban is expected to follow the reduction in violence agreement.

"If we decide to move forward, if all sides hold up – meet their obligations under that reduction in violence – then we'll start talking about the next part," U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper told reporters at the Munich Security Conference last week.

The war in Afghanistan has claimed the lives of more than 2,400 U.S. service members and has cost Washington nearly $1 trillion.

The term "reduction in violence" has created some confusion among Afghan government officials who question why both sides refrain from calling it a 'cease-fire.'

Sediq Sediqqi, a spokesperson for Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, told reporters in Kabul earlier this month that the Taliban's commitment to anything short of a full cease-fire would not produce the desired outcome to end the war.

"Does it mean that not 10, but five people will lose their lives? Or it means that there won't be 10 attacks, but five daily?" Sediqqi said.

President Ghani, however, on Saturday during the Munich Security Conference voiced cautious optimism about a partial truce agreed between the Taliban and the U.S. He said he was on the same page with Washington.

Some former Taliban officials, including former deputy minister of justice during the Taliban regime Jalaluddin Shinwari, said a complete cease-fire could carry the risk of divisions in its ranks and a dispersion of Taliban fighters.

The Taliban has so far insisted that it would talk to the Afghan government as one of the groups among other factions in the country not as a government. The Afghan government, however, insists that it would enter the so-called intra-Afghan dialogue with the insurgents as the legitimate government elected by the Afghan people.

The news of a potential deal with the Taliban and subsequent intra-Afghan dialogue comes amid an ongoing political struggle between Ghani and his main rival, Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah.

Afghanistan's Independent Election Commission (IEC) said Ghani secured 50.64% of the votes and declared him the winner of the country's fourth presidential election since 2001.

Ghani's main rival, Chief Executive Abdullah, who has shared power with Ghani since the 2014 presidential elections as part of the National Unity Government, rejected Tuesday's results as "fraudulent" and vowed to announce the forming of his government soon.

The Taliban also rejected the presidential election as "fraudulent" and called Ghani's victory "illegal."

In a statement, the insurgent group said any elections under "foreign occupation" could never help settle the conflict in the country.

VOA's Hasib Danish Alikozai in Washington contributed to this story.

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