Will Trump Withdraw From Afghanistan Next? Taliban, U.S. Agree to Peace Framework Principles

U.S. and Taliban representatives have edged closer to reaching a peace deal to allow American forces to withdraw from Afghanistan, negotiators have confirmed.

The drafted plan could form the basis for a full American withdrawal from Afghanistan, where U.S. forces have been battling Taliban fighters—and more recently the Islamic State militant group (ISIS)—for 17 years. During six days of talks in Qatar last week, envoys outlined a potential deal in which the Taliban would agree to prevent international extremist groups from using Afghanistan to launch attacks and commit to a ceasefire and talks with the Afghan government.

U.S. and Taliban envoys have "a draft of the framework that has to be fleshed out before it becomes an agreement," chief U.S. negotiator Zalmay Khalilzad told The New York Times.

"The Taliban have committed, to our satisfaction, to do what is necessary that would prevent Afghanistan from ever becoming a platform for international terrorist groups or individuals," he said. "We felt enough confidence that we said we need to get this fleshed out, and details need to be worked out."

A senior American official said negotiations are still ongoing, according to the Times, and the drafted framework is only the first step toward a peace deal. The unnamed official said the Taliban representatives had requested a break in the negotiations to speak with the group's leadership about the U.S. demand for talks and a ceasefire between the militants and the government in Kabul.

Still, the parties appear to be the closest they have ever been to reaching a deal since they began a series faltering peace discussions some nine years ago.

Though reports last week suggested the United States would agree to full troop withdrawal, U.S. officials told the Times no concrete details had been determined in this area. Senior U.S. representatives also explained that new high-level talks would begin in late February, with work on technical details of a future deal possibly commencing before.

One of the key U.S. demands is that the Taliban agree to keep Afghanistan from being used by militant organizations to launch attacks abroad, as Al-Qaeda did on 9/11. Khalilzad said the group had agreed to the demand and to provide guarantees and an enforcement mechanism to ensure the concern was addressed.

It is not yet clear what form of power the Taliban would be granted in post-war Afghanistan, nor the means by which they would work with the government in Kabul to prevent a return to violence.

After six days of talks in Doha, Qatar, Khalilzad few to Kabul to consult with the Afghan government. Afghanistan was not represented in the talks because the militants consider its government to be a puppet for the United States. In a series of tweets on Saturday, Khalilzad announced he had briefed Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and that "nothing is agreed until everything is agreed."

In a national address, Ghani warned that any peace deal must not be rushed, though he expressed his desire for an end to the fighting.

"We want peace quickly, we want it soon, but we want it with prudence," Ghani said. "Prudence is important so we do not repeat past mistakes."

According to the Associated Press, the president added, "There are values that are not disputable, such as national unity, national sovereignty and territorial integrity." Ghani has warned that any discussions of a future interim government or other power-sharing agreement must only be discussed in direct talks between Afghan and Taliban representatives.

Khalilzad told the Times he was attempting to persuade the Taliban to negotiate the future relationship directly with Kabul and denied an interim government had been discussed by U.S. representatives.

"There are a lot of reports that we have discussed an interim government: No, I have not gotten into any of that discussion," he said. "I have not entered into what that could look like with the Taliban—they would like to talk to me about it, but I have not."

Afghanistan peace march Taliban peace deal
Afghan protesters march for peace and a ceasefire as they hold banners in the Kandahar province, Afghanistan, on January 17. JAVED TANVEER/AFP/Getty Images