BRUSSELS – United States Secretary of Defense Mark Esper announced on Thursday that Washington has negotiated a seven-day reduction of violence in Afghanistan with the Taliban.
“We’ve said all along that the best if not only solution in Afghanistan is a political agreement,” he said at the end of a meeting of NATO defense ministers in Brussels.
“Progress has been made on this front and we will have more to report on that soon, I hope.”
He added that there had been a series of “productive” meetings with US allies about the proposal and way forward.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said Tuesday that the Taliban had proposed a reduction of violence to facilitate an agreement with the US after negotiations had stalled for several months.
The proposal was one of the main demands of US negotiators and the government in Kabul
A lasting reduction in violence in Afghanistan would open the door to advancing the ongoing peace talks and could allow the parties to sign a deal that has been pending in recent months, mainly due to insurgent attacks in the country.
A draft agreement between the Taliban and the US was finalized in September and contemplated the withdrawal of more than 5,000 American soldiers in the first 135 days after signing.
Afghanistan has been gripped by a bloody war since in 2001 when a US-led coalition overthrew the Taliban regime, which since then has fought to regain control of the country, where it currently dominates large territories.
Esper also opened the door to a reduction of US troops in Iraq thanks to NATO members expanding their presence in the country, as requested by Washington.
During the meeting, NATO reached a preliminary agreement to play a greater role in the fight against terrorism in the Middle East by assuming command of international troops training Iraqi security forces within a global coalition against the Islamic State terror group, composed of 70 countries and led by the US.
“I am pleased that NATO has agreed in principal to expand its role in the Middle East as the alliance considers growing its mission in Iraq in coordination with Baghdad and the defeat ISIS coalition to promote Iraq’s stability and security,” he said.
NATO secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg announced Thursday that the Iraqi government had approved the strategy.