Afghan President Ashraf Ghani says the foreign troops in Afghanistan will have to gradually leave the war-torn county.
“No Afghans want foreign forces in their country for the long term,” Ghani said in a televised address from the presidential palace in Kabul on Monday.
“The current presence of foreign forces is based on need, and this need has always been contemplated and will be contemplated...; and according to an exact and arranged plan, we are trying to bring down that number to zero,” he added, without specifying how that plan worked or when exactly the forces would have to leave.
Ghani also urged the Taliban militant group to “enter serious talks” with his government. The Taliban and the United States have been holding talks of their own. Last week, both hailed “progress” during bilateral talks in Qatar.
Up until now, the Taliban has repeatedly refused to hold talks with the Afghan government.
“I call on the Taliban to... show their Afghan will, and accept Afghans’ demand for peace, and enter serious talks with the Afghan government,” Ghani said in his Monday speech. “The Taliban has two choices, to either stand with the people of Afghanistan or be used as a tool by other countries.”
Washington and the Taliban ended six-day negotiations in Doha on Saturday, with Kabul saying that the US had assured Afghan officials that the focus of the talks in Qatar was on finding a way to facilitate peace and on the issue of foreign troop withdrawal.
Zalmay Khalilzad, the US peace envoy to Afghanistan, revealed in an interview with The New York Times on Monday that American and Taliban officials had agreed in principle to the framework of a peace deal that could culminate in a full pullout of US troops in return for a ceasefire and Taliban talks with the Afghan government.
Khalilzad said another key issue discussed in the talks had been a guarantee by the Taliban not to allow Afghanistan to be used by terrorist groups.
He said, however, that the deal was still in preliminary shape.
“We have a draft of the framework that has to be fleshed out before it becomes an agreement,” Khalilzad said in the interview. “The Taliban have committed, to our satisfaction, to do [sic] what is necessary that would prevent Afghanistan from ever becoming a platform for international terrorist groups or individuals.”
“We felt enough confidence that we said we need to get this fleshed out, and details need to be worked out,” he added.
US not seeking ‘permanent’ Afghan military presence
Meanwhile, a senior US government official told Reuters on Monday that Washington was committed to withdrawing foreign forces from Afghanistan after 17 years of war.
The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, also described “significant progress” in the negotiations with Taliban last week on a foreign pullout but said more talks were required on a ceasefire agreement and its timetable.
“Of course we don’t seek a permanent military presence in Afghanistan,” the official claimed. “Our goal is to help bring peace in Afghanistan and we would like a future partnership, newly defined with a post-peace government. We would like to leave a good legacy.”
But, he said, there could not be a withdrawal without a ceasefire.
More than a month ago, US President Donald Trump ordered a halving of the number of the US troops in Afghanistan, then standing at 14,000, although it was not clear if the announced drawdown had to do with the level of the threat posed by the Taliban.
Despite the presence of US-led forces in Afghanistan 17 years after they invaded the country to drive Taliban from power, the militant group controls nearly half of the country.
President Ghani said last week that 45,000 members of the country’s security forces had been killed since he took office in 2014.
The United States has nearly 14,000 troops in Afghanistan as part of the US-led NATO mission, known as Resolute Support.