Washington: United States Secretary of State Michael Pompeo has declined to sign an agreement reached “in principle” between the US and Taliban under which Washington would withdraw about 5400 of its troops from Afghanistan, TIME Magazine has exclusively reported, citing senior US, Afghan and European officials.
The agreement was reached upon between the US and Taliban negotiators during the ninth round of talks held in this regard in Qatar’s capital city of Doha. Under the agreement, the US would withdraw the said number of troops from five of its bases in Afghanistan within 135 days.
Officials familiar with discussions told TIME that the deal does not ensure several crucial things, such as the survival of pro-US government in Kabul, guaranteeing the continued presence of US counterterrorism forces to battle al-Qaeda or an end to fighting in Afghanistan.
“No one speaks with certainty. None,” an Afghan official taking part in briefings on the deal with Washington’s peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad said. “It is all based on hope. There is no trust. There is no history of trust. There is no evidence of honesty and sincerity from the Taliban,” and intercepted communications “show that they think they have fooled the US while the US believes that should the Taliban cheat, they will pay a hefty price.”
The uncertainty over these crucial points may explain why Pompeo declined to sign the agreement. Pompeo’s office had declined to comment on this before the publication of TIME’s story.
However, after the story was published, Pompeo said through a spokesperson that he might sign “if and when there is an agreement that is approved by all parties, including President Trump”.
“There is no agreement to sign yet. If and when there is an agreement that is approved by all parties, including President Trump and if the Secretary is the appropriate signatory, he will sign it,” State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus emailed TIME Wednesday evening.
Taliban and the US have held nine rounds of peace talks in the past ten months over the agreement which is broadly centered around the withdrawal of latter’s troops in exchange for the guarantee by the former that the Afghan soil, particularly areas under the group’s control, would not become a platform for transnational terrorism. In addition, the agreement would pave the way for the initiation of intra-Afghan peace talks.
The US currently has about 14,000 service members in Afghanistan, and the move would reduce troop levels to one of the lowest points in the history of the 18-year long war. The figure had swelled to nearly 100,000 at the highest mark in 2011 and dipped to 8,300 in 2017, according to USA Today.