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U.S.-Taliban pact to cut violence about to start, Afghan minister says amid clashes

by Reuters
Tuesday, 18 February 2020 13:42 GMT

(Adds comments by minister, fresh violence details and background)

By Abdul Qadir Sediqi

KABUL, Feb 18 (Reuters) - An agreement between the Taliban and U.S. forces to reduce violence will come into force within the next five days, Afghanistan's acting interior minister said on Tuesday, amid continued clashes between the militants and Afghan forces.

A senior U.S. administration official said last week negotiations with Taliban representatives in Qatar had resulted in an agreement in principle for a week-long reduction of violence, but that the seven-day period had not yet started.

"The RIV (reduction in violence) period will begin in the next five days, which will be based on the negotiations between the U.S. and the Taliban," Masoud Andarabi, Afghanistan's acting minister of interior, told a gathering of provincial police commanders in Kabul.

Taliban fighters attacked Afghan government forces on Sunday night and militant commanders said on Monday insurgency operations would go on until they receive fresh instructions based on any deal with the United States.

The Taliban, who ruled Afghanistan from 1996 until their ouster by U.S.-led troops in 2001, have refused to negotiate directly with the Afghan government, which they see as a puppet of the United States.

On Tuesday, Taliban fighters attacked a security checkpoint set up by Afghan forces in Kapisa province, killing nine pro-government militiamen, a spokesman for the provincial governor said. The Taliban said in a statement the toll was 11.

The acting interior minister said that if the Taliban continued to attack Afghan forces during the RIV period, there would be a retaliation and international forces in Afghanistan would back the response.

There are hopes that the RIV accord - if it holds - could pave the way for an agreement on a U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, a long-sought objective for U.S. President Donald Trump, who has vowed to stop the "endless wars" as he seeks re-election in November.

A senior Taliban leader in Doha said on Monday a deal with the United States was set to be signed by the end of February.

There remains a long way to go to a peace settlement and an end to the nearly two-decade-old U.S. military presence that began shortly after the 9/11 attacks by al Qaeda on the United States.

U.S. officials have been clear that the 13,000 U.S. troops will be cut to about 8,600 this year, even without a withdrawal deal. (Reporting by Abdul Qadir Sediqi; Writing by Gibran Peshimam; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Nick Macfie)

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