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US, Taliban historic deal paves way for foreign troops withdrawal

Deal struck in Doha proposes intra-Afghan dialogue between Taliban and Kabul government
The deal was signed in Doha between US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad and Taliban political chief Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar (Reuters)

The United States and Afghanistan’s Taliban on Saturday signed a landmark deal which could pave the way for the full withdrawal of foreign soldiers, a step towards the end of the 18-year-war in the central Asian country.

The deal was signed in the Qatari capital of Doha between US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad and Taliban political chief Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, in the presence of leaders from Pakistan, Qatar, Turkey India, Indonesia, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.

In a statement, the Taliban said it has reached an agreement "about the termination of occupation of Afghanistan".

"The accord about the complete withdrawal of all foreign forces from Afghanistan and never intervening in its affairs in the future is undoubtedly a great achievement," it added.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called on the Taliban to honour its commitments.

"I know there will be a temptation to declare victory, but victory for Afghans will only be achieved when they can live in peace and prosper," he said from the ceremony.

Hours before the deal, the Taliban ordered all of its fighters in Afghanistan "to refrain from any kind of attack ... for the happiness of the nation."

As part of the deal, the US committed to reducing the number of its troops t0 8,600 - down from 13,000 - within the next 135 days. 

A joint statement released by the US and the Afghan government said US and NATO troops would fully withdraw from Afghanistan within 14 months. 

The statement added that the Afghan government will engage with the United Nations to remove Taliban members from the sanctions list by the end of May.

The peace deal also proposes intra-Afghan dialogue between the western-backed government in Kabul and the Taliban, which is expected to be complex.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said he hoped the Doha deal paves the way towards lasting peace, telling a news conference in Kabul:"The nation is looking forward to a full ceasefire."

Meanwhile, 5,000 Taliban members are also set to be released from prison.

Saudi Arabia welcomed the peace agreement, and said it hoped it would lead to a permanent ceasefire.

The US invaded Afghanistan in 2001 to remove the Taliban from power, after they had provided cover for Osama Bin Laden’s al-Qaeda militant group, which had carried out the September 11 attacks on New York.

The group was quickly ousted, but has staged a comeback over the years, leading it to control more territory today than it has at any point since 2001.

Over 100,000 Afghans have died in a war that has also claimed the lives of nearly 2,400 US service personnel. It is considered the longest war in US history.