By Michael Hernandez
WASHINGTON (AA) - The Afghan government and the Taliban insurgent group will soon agree to take steps to wind down the war in the country, President Donald Trump said Friday.
"Soon, at my direction, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will witness the signing of an agreement with representatives of the Taliban, while Secretary of Defense Mark Esper will issue a joint declaration with the government of Afghanistan," Trump said in a statement. He did not mention when the agreement would occur, nor when the declaration would be made.
"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," added Trump.
The U.S. president has long sought to end the conflict and bring U.S. forces home from the nation's longest war.
The U.S. has upwards of 12,000 troops in Afghanistan conducting operations in support of Afghan forces, as well as a broader anti-terror mission.
The landmark peace deal comes on the heels of an unprecedented week-long reduction in violence ending on Friday, Feb. 28, a condition stipulated ahead of the expected signing of a peace deal between the U.S. and Taliban in Qatar on Saturday.
The deal between the U.S. and the Taliban includes pledges from Washington on a phased withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, and a vow from the Taliban not to harbor international terrorists. They are also set to commit to sharing the table with Afghan officials, politicians, and civil society.
The Afghan government has formed an initial direct contact group to hold talks with the Taliban, a top official in Kabul told Anadolu Agency on Friday.
The Taliban had previously rejected the notion of holding direct peace talks with the Afghan government headed by President Ashraf Ghani, and has steadfastly rebuffed the idea of a broader nationwide ceasefire.
A previous peace deal was derailed by a deadly Taliban suicide attack in Kabul that killed an American soldier.
Trump declared the peace talks “dead” in September in the wake of the soldier’s killing, and cancelled a Camp David summit one day before he said it was scheduled to begin.
The agreement that was nearly signed in September sets the timetable for the U.S. exit from Afghanistan in exchange for the Taliban vows to ensure Afghanistan does not become a hotbed for terrorist groups and begin talks with Ghani’s government.