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Final Touches Being Put on Deal As Taliban Reviews Proposal On U.S. Withdrawal

Former Taliban and IS militants surrender their weapons during a reconciliation ceremony in Jalalabad on August 28.
Former Taliban and IS militants surrender their weapons during a reconciliation ceremony in Jalalabad on August 28.

As U.S. and Taliban officials look to apparently seal a historic deal to end the 18-year Afghan conflict, leaders of the extremist militant group are reviewing the proposed agreement at an undisclosed location along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

A senior Taliban commander in Pakistan told the AFP news agency on August 28 that "all Shura (consultation) members have received the draft and they are reading it carefully."

However, he said "no go-ahead signal has been given to the Taliban negotiating team" in the Qatari capital of Doha.

Their response may "take a day or two" since the group's leadership needs to reach a consensus, the Taliban official said.

Meanwhile, the U.S. special envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, who has been leading the talks, will come to Kabul "in one or two" days and brief President Ashraf Ghani about the agreement, according to officials close to the negotiations.

The Taliban has refused to negotiate directly with the U.S.-backed government in Kabul.

The focal point of the deal is for American forces to gradually withdraw from Afghanistan in exchange for a Taliban promise that the country would not become a sanctuary for international militants.

The statements came during a ninth round of talks as officials in the war-wracked country said that at least 14 pro-government militia members were killed by Taliban militants in the western province of Herat.

"We hope to have good news soon for our Muslim, independence-seeking nation," said Suhail Shaheen, a spokesman for the Taliban's political office in Doha.

A senior security official in Kabul said the Taliban and U.S. officials had agreed upon a timeline of about 14 to 24 months for the withdrawal of U.S. forces.

Details would be shared with the Afghan government before they were made public, the official said.

The United States formally ended its Afghan combat mission in 2014 but about 14,000 U.S. troops remain in the country, mainly training and advising government forces battling the Taliban, an affiliate of the Islamic State group, and other militants. Some U.S. forces carry out counterterrorism operations.

At the Pentagon, the top U.S. general, Joseph Dunford, said it was "premature" to talk about the future of U.S. counterterrorism forces in Afghanistan.

"Any agreement that we have moving forward, the president has been clear, is going to be conditions based," said General Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

"We're going to make sure that Afghanistan is not a sanctuary, and we're going to try to have an effort to bring peace and stability to Afghanistan," Dunford told reporters, adding that any agreement should also lead to dialogue between the Taliban and the Afghan government for a broader peace deal.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper, standing next to him, said the deal must guarantee that Afghanistan "is no longer a safe haven for terrorists to attack the United States."

Despite the U.S. and Taliban talks, there has been no let-up in violence in Afghanistan.

As the talks were underway this week, a 60-year-old pro-government commander was killed in an August 27 battle against a group of Taliban militants that included his own son.

Pro-Afghan government commander Baz Mohammad was killed on August 27.
Pro-Afghan government commander Baz Mohammad was killed on August 27.

The overnight battle in Afghanistan's northern province of Jowzjan took place just hours after the slain commander, Baz Muhammad, spoke to RFE/RL about the need to end a war which pits "sons against fathers and brothers and against brothers."

Separately, in eastern Nangarhar Province, the governor's spokesman Attaullah Khogynai said a university professor was killed and two others wounded on August 27 when a bomb attached to their car exploded in the provincial capital, Jalalabad.

No one has claimed responsibility for the attack in Nangarhar, where both the Taliban and the local affiliate of the Islamic State extremist group are active.

With reporting by AFP, AP, Reuters, and Interfax
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