The United States signed a historic deal with Taliban insurgents on Saturday that could pave the way toward a full withdrawal of foreign soldiers from Afghanistan over the next 14 months and represent a step toward ending the 18-year-war there.
While the agreement paves the way for the United States to gradually pull out of its longest war, many expect that talks to come between the multiple Afghan sides will be far more complicated.
The deal was signed in the Qatari capital Doha by U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad and Taliban political chief Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was on hand to witness the ceremony.
U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper meanwhile travelled to Kabul on a visit that officials and experts said was aimed at reassuring the Afghan government about the United States’ commitment to the country.
For U.S President Donald Trump, the deal represents a chance to make good on his promise to bring U.S. troops home. But security experts have also called it a foreign policy gamble that would give the Taliban international legitimacy.
“Today is a monumental day for Afghanistan,” the U.S. Embassy in Kabul said on Twitter. “It is about making peace and crafting a common brighter future. We stand with Afghanistan.”
Hours before the deal, the Taliban ordered all its fighters in Afghanistan “to refrain from any kind of attack … for the happiness of the nation.”
“The biggest thing is that we hope the U.S. remain committed to their promises during the negotiation and peace deal,” said Zabiullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the hardline Islamist group.
Mujahid said it was “irritating and provocative” that foreign military aircraft continued to fly over Taliban territory, but militia fighters were following the order to stand-down.
For millions of Afghans, the deal represents some hope for an end to years of bloodshed.