By Eileen AJ Connelly, NY POST
US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad (L) and Taliban co-founder Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar (R) shake hands after signing the peace agreement between US, Taliban, in Doha.Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
The United States and Taliban signed a peace deal Saturday aimed at bringing an end to the country’s longest war.
The agreement sets the stage for the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan more than 18 years after President George W. Bush ordered bombing in response to the 9/11 attacks. The US has spent more than $750 billion fighting the war, which has cost tens of thousands of lives on all sides.
The historic deal was signed in Doha, Qatar, by US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad and Taliban political chief Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was on hand to witness the ceremony.
“Today is a monumental day for Afghanistan,” the US Embassy in Kabul said on Twitter. “It is about making peace and crafting a common brighter future. We stand with Afghanistan.”
In the Afghan capital of Kabul, US Defense Secretary Mark Esper and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg will sign a declaration “recommitting the international community’s commitment to Afghanistan,” said Sediq Sediqqui, spokesman for Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani.
Under the deal, US troops will be reduced to 8,600 from about 13,000 in the upcoming weeks. Further reductions will depend on the Taliban reaching specific counter-terrorism conditions. Part of the agreement included a promise from the Taliban not to let extremists use the country as a staging ground for attacking the US or its allies.
President Trump is aiming to fulfill his promise to bring troops home from the Middle East as his re-election campaign ramps up.
US officials are hesitant to trust the militant group, but 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,” Reuters reported.
The deal sets the stage for peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government, which have been battling for decades. Prospects remain uncertain for the Taliban and Afghan government to reach an agreement. The government is under scrutiny after a contested election saw Ghani named president earlier this month, five months after the vote.