US, Taliban Make Progress In Doha Talks: Sources

The ninth round of the negotiations between the US and the Taliban on Saturday completed its third day with progress on a full withdrawal of foreign troops within 15 to 20 months as well as counterterrorism assurances from the Taliban side, sources familiar with the talks said.

The sources said the two sides will sign the peace deal within the next few days which will be followed by intra-Afghan negotiations.

As part of a peace deal, the number of US forces will reduce to 5,000 from the current 14,000, sources said. The troops will be withdrawn from five American bases, which according to President Ghani, they are “small bases” and the reduction will not impact the situation of Afghanistan.

This comes as a former member of the Taliban says the agreement between the US and the Taliban will be finalized within the next few days as the ninth round of the negotiations began in Doha on Thursday.

Abdul Salam Zaeef, who served as Taliban’s ambassador for Pakistan when the group ruled the country in the late 1990s, told TOLOnews on Friday that the deputy leader of the group, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar will sign the peace agreement with the United States.

Mr. Zaeef said the US negotiators want to mention in the agreement that the Taliban will not have any relations with terrorist groups after the peace agreement.

The two sides in Doha are expected to discuss ways to implement the peace agreement. A Taliban spokesman said that the US forces top commander Gen. Scott Miller was also present on the first day of the talks in Doha.

Mr. Zaeef said the US and the Taliban have agreed on a full withdrawal of foreign forces in 15 to 24 months and on counterterrorism assurances.

Negotiating Team

The State Ministry for Peace Affairs said discussions are underway on prioritizing the issues which will be discussed by the government’s negotiating team in the intra-Afghan negotiations.

“We will use all resources and opportunities and we will try to help the team appear with good coordination in the talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban,” said Najia Anwari, a spokesperson for the State Ministry for Peace Affairs.

Last month, the State Minister for Peace Affairs Abdul Salam Rahimi said the 15-member negotiating team has been finalized and that it will be announced ahead of the intra-Afghan negotiations which will probably take place in a European capital.

Sources familiar with the process said that the members of the negotiating team have been informed to prepare for the intra-Afghan negotiations and members of the team have held a number of unofficial meetings.

Meanwhile, vice presidential candidate and former NDS chief, Amrullah Saleh, who has joined President Ghani’s re-election campaign, said the US-Taliban peace deal will only determine the fate of the Taliban, not the fate of Afghans.

“We are not scared of the Taliban… Our concern is from the four individuals are negotiating with the US out of the country, out of the Afghan culture, out of the Afghan identity and with the continued technical consolation of Pakistan’s intelligence,” Mr. Saleh said, referring to the Taliban’s negotiating team who have held nine rounds of talks with the US negotiators.

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