Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will attend the signing of a landmark peace agreement between the U.S. and the Taliban in an official ceremony expected to be witnessed by a host of global officials, President Trump announced Friday.
In a statement released by the White House, Mr. Trump explained that shortly after the signing, Defense Secretary Mark Esper will issue a “joint declaration” with the U.S.-backed Afghan government in a show of support ahead of an expected second phase of peace talks between the Taliban and the government of Afghanistan.
The U.S.-Taliban peace deal hinges on the Taliban’s reduction in violence and willingness to work with the Kabul government going forward to purge the Islamic State, al Qaeda and other international terrorist groups that have found sanctuary in Afghanistan, in exchange for a phased withdrawal of U.S. and other foreign combat troops.
“These commitments represent an important step to a lasting peace in a new Afghanistan, free from al Qaeda, ISIS, and any other terrorist group that would seek to bring us harm,” Mr. Trump said.
The Pentagon is pushing to keep at least a small contingent of U.S. special operations forces in the country to deal with the terrorist threat.
“If the Taliban and the government of Afghanistan live up to these commitments, we will have a powerful path forward to end the war in Afghanistan and bring our troops home,” the president said.
Such a development could pave the way for ending 19 years of war in Afghanistan and bringing home most, if not all, of the more than 12,000 U.S. troops stationed there.
Mr. Pompeo has stated as recently as Friday that Washington has seen a “significant reduction in violence” in Afghanistan, pointing to a successful peace deal signing.
The deal reportedly would set into motion a 135-day timetable for the initial U.S. troop drawdown and the start of the Taliban-Afghan government talks that analysts say are likely to play out in the course of years, not months.
The Taliban has refused to recognize the legitimacy of the U.S.-backed Afghan government, and some believe the militant group is poised to exploit rampant infighting among political leaders in Kabul if and when negotiations do take place.
“Ultimately it will be up to the people of Afghanistan to work out their future,” Mr. Trump said. “We, therefore, urge the Afghan people to seize this opportunity for peace and a new future for their country.”