US would withdraw 5,000 troops from Afghanistan and close bases under peace plan

US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad met with President Ashraf Ghani in Kabul to brief him on the latest round of talks with the Taliban on ending America’s longest war. (File/AFP)
Updated 02 September 2019

US would withdraw 5,000 troops from Afghanistan and close bases under peace plan

  • Deal reached after months of negotiations with Taliban must still be approved by Donald Trump
  • Taliban would commit not to allow Afghanistan to be used by militant groups such as Al-Qaeda

KABUL: The United States would withdraw almost 5,000 troops from Afghanistan and close five bases within 135 days under a draft peace accord agreed with the Taliban, the chief US negotiator Zalmay Khalilzad said on Monday.
The deal, reached after months of negotiations with representatives from the insurgent movement, must still be approved by US President Donald Trump before it can be signed, Khalilzad said in an interview with Tolo News television.
“In principle, we have got there,” he said. “The document is closed.”
In exchange for the phased withdrawal, the Taliban would commit not to allow Afghanistan to be used by militant groups such as Al-Qaeda or Daesh to plot attacks on the United States and its allies.
However the distance that must still be covered before peace is achieved was underlined by a large explosion that rocked the Afghan capital Kabul even as Khalilzad’s interview was being aired, shaking buildings several kilometers away.
Khalilzad, a veteran Afghan-American diplomat said the aim of the deal was to end the war and he said it would lead to a reduction in violence but there was no formal cease-fire agreement. It would be up to negotiations among Afghans themselves to agree a settlement, he said.
He declined to say how long the remainder of the roughly 14,000 US troops would remain in Afghanistan after the first stage of the withdrawal although Taliban officials have previously insisted that all foreign forces must leave.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has been briefed on a draft of the accord and will look at details of the deal before giving an opinion, his spokesman said on Monday.
Khalilzad said so-called “intra-Afghan” talks, which might be held in Norway, would aim to reach a broader political settlement and end the fighting between the Taliban and the Western-backed government in Kabul.
However details of any future negotiations remain unclear, with the Taliban so far refusing to deal directly with the government, which it considers an illegitimate “puppet” regime.

Ghani met Khalilzad and will “study and assess” details of the draft, spokesman Sediq Sediqqi told reporters earlier on Monday. “But for us, a meaningful peace or a path to a meaningful peace is the end of violence and direct negotiation with the Taliban,” he said.
Presidential elections, scheduled for Sept. 28 in which Ghani is seeking re-election to a second five-year term, were not covered in the agreement, Khalilzad said.
Many Afghan government officials have resented the exclusion of the government from the US-Taliban talks, an issue that was underlined when Ghani was not allowed to keep a text of the draft agreement after it was shown to him.
Khalilzad, who has completed nine rounds of talks with Taliban representatives, is scheduled to hold meetings with a number of Afghan leaders in Kabul this week to build a consensus before the deal is signed.
The peace talks have taken place against a backdrop of relentless violence, even before Monday’s blast in Kabul, with the Taliban mounting two large-scale attacks on the major northern cities of Kunduz and Pul-e Khumri at the weekend.
Afghan security forces pushed back Taliban fighters from both cities but a suicide bomber detonated his explosives on Monday in Kunduz, killing at least six policemen and wounding 15, officials and the Taliban said.
Trump has made little secret of his desire to bring the roughly 14,000 troops home from Afghanistan, where American troops have been deployed since a US-led campaign overthrew the Taliban in 2001.
But there are concerns among Afghan officials and US national security aides about a US withdrawal, with fears Afghanistan could be plunged into a new civil war that could herald a return of Taliban rule and allow international militants, including Daesh, to find a refuge.
 


US lawmakers reach deal on massive defense bill

Updated 12 min 53 sec ago

US lawmakers reach deal on massive defense bill

  • The US House of Representatives and Senate Armed Services Committees agreed on a compromise version of the National Defense Authorization Act
  • The bill says Trump should implement sanctions on Turkey over the S-400 purchase, something lawmakers have been demanding

WASHINGTON: US lawmakers announced an agreement on Monday on a $738-billion bill setting policy for the Department of Defense, including new measures for competing with Russia and China, family leave for federal workers and the creation of President Donald Trump’s long-desired Space Force.
It also calls for sanctions on Turkey over its purchase of a Russian missile defense system, and a tough response to North Korea’s efforts to develop nuclear weapons.
The US House of Representatives and Senate Armed Services Committees agreed on a compromise version of the National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, after months of negotiations. It is expected to pass before Congress leaves Washington later this month for the year-end holiday break.
The legislation includes $658.4 billion for the Department of Defense and Department of Energy national security programs, $71.5 billion to pay for ongoing foreign wars, known as “Overseas Contingency Operations” funding, and $5.3 billion in emergency funding for repairs of damage from extreme weather and natural disasters.
There were concerns earlier this year that the NDAA might fail for the first time in 58 years over steep divides between the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives and Republican-controlled Senate over Trump’s policies.
Because it is one of the few pieces of major legislation Congress passes every year, the NDAA becomes a vehicle for a range of policy measures as well as setting everything from military pay levels to which ships or aircraft will be modernized, purchased or discontinued.
It includes a 3.1 percent pay hike for the troops, the largest in a decade and, for the first time, 12 weeks of paid parental leave for federal workers, something Democrats strongly sought.
Among other things, the proposed fiscal 2020 NDAA imposes sanctions related to Russia’s Nord Stream 2 and TurkStream pipelines and bars military-to-military cooperation with Russia.
Russia is building the pipelines to bolster supply to Europe while bypassing Ukraine, and members of Congress have been pushing the Trump administration to do more to stop the projects as they near completion.
The NDAA also prohibits the transfer of F-35 stealth fighter jets, which Lockheed Martin Corp. is developing, to Turkey. It expresses a Sense of Congress that Turkey’s acquisition of Russia’s S-400 missile defense system, which Washington says it not compatible with NATO defenses and threatens the F-35, constitutes a significant transaction under US sanctions law.
The bill says Trump should implement sanctions on Turkey over the S-400 purchase, something lawmakers have been demanding.
The NDAA also reauthorizes $300 million of funding for the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, to include lethal defensive items as well as new authorities for coastal defense cruise missiles and anti-ship missiles.
Military aid to Ukraine has been at the center of the impeachment inquiry into Trump, after his administration held up security assistance for Kiev last summer even as the country dealt with challenges from Russia.
Fulfilling one of Trump’s most high-profile requests, the bill establishes the US Space Force as the sixth Armed Service of the United States, under the Air Force.
The legislation also contains a series of provisions intended to address potential threats from China, including requiring reports on China’s overseas investments and its military relations with Russia.
It bars the use of federal funds to buy rail cars and buses from China, and it says Congress “unequivocally supports” residents of Hong Kong as they defend their rights and seek to preserve their autonomy with China. It also supports improving Taiwan’s defense capabilities.
The NDAA calls for a sweeping approach to North Korea’s nuclear weapons development, as well as the threat it poses to US forces on the Korean peninsula and allies in the region.
It puts mandatory sanctions on North Korean imports and exports of coal and other minerals and textiles, as well as some petroleum products and crude oil, and it puts additional sanctions on banks that deal with North Korea.
The bill also bars the Pentagon from reducing the number of troops deployed to South Korea below 28,500 unless the Secretary of Defense certifies that it is in the US national security interest to do so.