KABUL, Afghanistan - A draft peace agreement between the United States and the Taliban would withdraw an initial 5,400 U.S. troops - more than one-third of the total - from five bases in Afghanistan within 135 days after the agreement is signed, the top U.S. negotiator said Monday, Sept. 2, after briefing Afghan officials on the deal.
In an interview with Afghan news outlet ToloNews, U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad described the proposed plan as "an agreement with the Taliban in principle."
"But it is not final until the president of the United States also agrees to it," he said.
In a meeting last month, Trump gave Khalilzad the go ahead to finalize the deal, in principle, with the Taliban. In the interview, Khalilzad declined to name the U.S. bases that would be affected, but noted any withdrawal would be contingent on the Taliban abiding by the terms of the agreement. In exchange for the initial withdrawal, the Taliban have agreed to cut ties with al-Qaida and provide counterterrorism guarantees.
Khalilzad also said that the draft identifies the Taliban as the Islamic Emirate, the militant group's preferred name. But he said, that implied no recognition of the Taliban as the legitimate government of Afghanistan. U.S. officials have said previously that the name would identify the Taliban as a political party.
While Afghan government officials were briefed on the draft, Khalilzad said, they were not given copies of the agreement.
"It is our agreement with the Taliban, not their agreement with the Taliban," he said, referring to the Afghan government. He declined to characterize the government's initial response.
Khalilzad flew to Kabul on Sunday after announcing on Twitter that he had wrapped up the latest round of peace talks with the Taliban in Qatar and that the two sides were on "the threshold" of a deal. The United States and the Taliban have met for nine rounds of peace talks over the last 10 months.
This week, the Taliban attacked two major cities in northern Afghanistan, killing dozens of civilians and security forces and renewing fears of increased violence, even as Khalilzad said a deal was close.
Reports of the proposed withdrawal have met with criticism by some of Trump's supporters, including Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and among some national security advisers within the administration on grounds that the Taliban cannot be trusted and the United States would be giving up gains made during the 18-year war.
On Monday, Afghan presidential spokesman Sediq Seddiqi told reporters here that the government would take the following days to review the proposal and offer feedback. Khalilzad also met with Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah on Monday.
The Taliban has long demanded a complete withdrawal of all foreign troops from the country. U.S. officials have said that withdrawal will be "conditions-based," but the Trump administration is hopeful that those remaining after the initial drawdown will leave by late next year.
Last week, President Trump told Fox News radio that his administration planned to reduce troop levels to around 8,600, but did not offer a timeline for their withdrawal.
A presidential election is scheduled here for Sept. 28, and Ghani is up for a second term. The vote has already been postponed twice, but critics have urged him to postpone the election again, saying it could threaten the peace process. The independent electoral commission has also warned that around 2,000 polling places will be closed due to insecurity. Abdullah, Ghani's top competitor in the upcoming election, said this week he would be willing to "quit elections for the sake of peace."
But on Monday, Seddiqi, Ghani's spokesman, doubled down on plans to move forward with the vote later this month.
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This article was written by Siobhán O'Grady and Sharif Hassan, reporters for The Washington Post.
The Washington Post's Karen DeYoung in Washington contributed to this report.